Former North Myrtle Beach police officer loses wrongful termination lawsuit

dwren@thesunnews.comAugust 14, 2013 

— A federal judge has dismissed the last remaining wrongful termination claim filed against the city of North Myrtle Beach by former city police Lt. Randy Fisher and sent back to state court a defamation counterclaim filed against Fisher by his former boss, William Bailey.

Judge Bryan Harwell ruled last week that Fisher could not prove the city violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act when Fisher was forced to resign in 2009 following his claims of unfair treatment by city officials. Title VII protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of race and color, as well as national origin, sex and religion.

Harwell adopted a magistrate judge’s earlier recommendation that the case be dismissed. In that recommendation, Magistrate Judge Thomas Rogers stated that “unfair treatment, irrespective of gender, does not rise to the level of an unlawful employment action.”

Bonnie Hunt, a lawyer representing Fisher, and city spokesman Pat Dowling could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The ruling comes one year after the federal court dismissed Fisher’s claims that the city violated public policy and his First Amendment rights in forcing his resignation.

The only remaining legal issue is whether Fisher made defamatory statements about Bailey, the city’s former public safety director.

Bailey, in court documents, accuses Fisher of lying about Bailey’s response to a 2009 wildfire that destroyed dozens of homes in the Barefoot Landing neighborhood. Bailey – who was forced to retire from the city in 2010 for unrelated reasons – also says Fisher made false accusations that Bailey squelched a criminal domestic violence investigation as a political favor and interfered in police calls related to a nightclub owned by one of Mayor Marilyn Hatley’s top campaign supporters.

Bailey told The Sun News that he intends to pursue the charge against Fisher and is happy the case has been sent back to state court.

“I wanted the case heard in Horry County,” he said.

The alleged false statements stem from recorded conversations Fisher secretly made during the two years leading up to his resignation from the public safety department. Fisher provided The Sun News with copies of those recorded conversations after his resignation. Those conversations included descriptions of Bailey and others making police decisions based on political alliances, officers making crude sexual remarks about female co-workers and crime victims and officers afraid to report alleged misconduct for fear of reprisal.

The city fired a longtime police detective and the department’s second in command after the recordings were made public. The city also provided mandatory training to prevent sexual harassment and hired a group to survey public safety employees about the department’s morale and needs.

Fisher said he started recording conversations after he suspected that Bailey was targeting him for firing because he complained about perceived unethical and improper behavior in the department. Fisher, in his lawsuit, said Bailey favored some employees over others and city officials disciplined employees differently for similar offenses. City officials said they fired Fisher because he gave confidential information about the city’s response to the wildfires to a Barefoot Resort resident, a charge Fisher denies.

In his recommendation, Rogers stated that “making general workplace complaints is not protected activity” and that Fisher failed to prove his forced resignation was due to any illegal retaliation.

Bailey survived fallout from the Fisher recordings but was forced to retire in 2010 after former City Manager John Smithson said Bailey lied about the storage of his police handgun, which was stolen from his unlocked truck. Smithson retired shortly after forcing Bailey’s retirement. Bailey says he did not lie to city officials and has filed a separate, pending, wrongful termination lawsuit against the city.

Contact DAVID WREN at 626-0281.

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