Beaufort to pay $70K in settlement over sexual harassment claims by former employee

The Carteret County Courthouse sits in Beaufort. The town is settling with a former employee who filed a complaint alleging she was sexually harassed by her superior and wrongfully terminated. (News-Times photo)

Editor's note: This story was updated at 10:35 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, to add more information and to reflect that the Beaufort Board of Commissioners approved the settlement agreement. 

BEAUFORT — The town is settling for $70,000 with a former employee who claims she was sexually harassed by her superior before being wrongfully terminated.

Meredith Bailey filed a complaint in Carteret County Superior Court in March 2019 against the town of Beaufort and the town’s Public Works Director Mark Eakes and Finance Director Christi Wood. In the complaint, Ms. Bailey alleges Mr. Eakes, her direct supervisor, sexually harassed her on multiple occasions, and she was later terminated by Ms. Wood in retaliation of reporting the harassment.

Ms. Wood is not part of the settlement agreement, however, as she was dismissed from the case at an earlier stage. 

Because it involves alleged violations of the Civil Rights Act, a federal law, the lawsuit was removed to U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, where it is pending. With a settlement reached between the parties involved, the pending litigation will be dropped.

The matter of the settlement was part of the agenda for the Beaufort Board of Commissioners meeting Monday evening. The board voted to approve the settlement agreement, which includes mutual releases of all claims, as well as confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses.

As part of the settlement, Beaufort will pay $70,000, to be split between Ms. Bailey and her attorney, plus mediator’s fees. The funds will come from the Interlocal Risk Financing Fund of North Carolina, a municipal risk pool that serves as the town’s liability carrier.

According to court documents, Ms. Bailey was employed as an administrative assistant in Beaufort’s public works and public utilities departments from Oct. 3, 2016, to March 31, 2017. Ms. Bailey claims from the beginning of her employment, Mr. Eakes behavior toward her was “very flirtatious,” eventually escalating to “overtly sexual” and demeaning conduct.

Ms. Bailey’s complaint contains numerous specific examples of Mr. Eakes’ alleged harassment, including screen shots of sexually-suggestive text messages allegedly sent by the defendant.    

On Dec. 6, 2016, Ms. Bailey claims she complained to then-Town Manager Charles Burgess about Mr. Eakes’ behavior and was moved to a new location and given different job responsibilities as a result. She was placed under de-facto supervision of Ms. Wood, who later terminated Ms. Bailey for allegedly “pretextual,” or false, reasons.

Mr. Eakes and Ms. Wood are still employed by Beaufort as the town’s public works director and finance director, respectively. The settlement agreement commissioners will consider next week, which Ms. Bailey and Mr. Eakes have already signed, specifically states that the agreement does not constitute admission of liability for any of the parties involved.

Beaufort officials declined the News-Times’ request to comment on the case. When reached for comment, Ms. Bailey’s attorney, Mary-Ann Leon of the Leon Law Firm in Greenville, said the matter had been resolved and did not provide any further comment.

 

Contact Elise Clouser elise@thenewstimes.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.

(9) comments

quicksand

These people are so important to Beaufort that they’re not even going to be terminated, and will be allowed to expose the town to further lawsuits? Wow....

mpjeep

Guilty -- termination!

David Collins

Reads like Ms. Bailey will get precious little for her efforts .

Does sound like at least two employees need to go . Hostile work environment and all that . Not a legal beagle but a couple of personal suits might be in order . That might well be where the rubber hits the road . All depends on the settlement agreement , I guess .

JusticeForAll

That this type of behavior towards women or men stills exists in today's world is pathetic. Why are the parties responsible for this not paying this tab? And they are still employed because...

CARTERETISCORRUPT

Terminate all involved. No swamp here.

CARTERETISCORRUPT

Corruption is alive and well in Carteret. Using taxpayer dollars to pay off a lawsuit, should itself mandate these perps be fired.

Vintage Chief

Public Works Director Mark Eakes should be terminated. Mr. Eakes is a burden to the Town of Beaufort. I can personally attest to the fact he lacks qualifications for the position which he holds, Mr. Eakes conducts himself in an unprofessional manner and is a poor steward for our community.

LoveENC

Check the updated facts, "Ms. Wood is not part of the settlement agreement, however, as she was dismissed from the case at an earlier stage". The media doesn't always get it accurate so before you rant about firing everyone involved, make sure you get the story straight.

Wowiswow

Unreal! How or why is Eakes still employed with the town?!!???

Welcome to the discussion.

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