The City of Aiken and a former senior city employee have settled a discrimination lawsuit first filed earlier this year.
Michelle Shepherd Jones, the city's former public works director, had sued the city, former City Manager John Klimm and current City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh for alleged race-, gender- and religion-based discrimination, which she said culminated in her wrongful termination.
Jones is an African American woman and a Seventh-day Adventist.
A federal judge dismissed the case Sept. 26 after being notified the matter had been settled, court documents show.
The terms of the settlement – how much money will change hands, for example – are unclear. Related court filings do not offer specifics.
In her initial court complaint, filed at the local level, Jones also alleged she was spied on; unfairly evaluated; excluded from meetings and undermined; tormented, ridiculed and humiliated; and retaliated against for expressing concerns.
A state-level discrimination probe turned up "insufficient evidence" of wrongdoing, according to documents earlier reviewed by the Aiken Standard.
A December 2018 letter from Martin Samuels, an S.C. Human Affairs Commission investigator, to Jones stated the investigation was closed and found no solid proof the state's human affairs laws were violated.
Jones, a former state transportation department employee, was hired by the city in October 2016 to oversee a newly consolidated Public Works Department. She reported to Klimm and then to Bedenbaugh after Klimm's abrupt departure.
Jones was terminated April 3, 2018, one day after being asked to resign, according to court documents. While she worked for the city, Jones' top salary was $114,899.20. She was among the highest paid city employees at the time.
In court filings, the city's legal representation argued Jones was let go because she showed poor job performance.
"Ms. Jones was terminated because she was unable to perform the duties of public services director to the city's satisfaction," reads one document, which included a list of perceived shortcomings.
Bedenbaugh, the city manager, on Wednesday said, "This was a settlement between the city's insurance carrier and Ms. Jones." He referred further inquiries to the S.C. Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund and to Jones.
Questions directed to the Municipal Association of South Carolina were not immediately answered.