An Horry County judge this week paved the way for a former North Myrtle Beach employee to file racial discrimination claims against the city.
Judge Larry Hyman said during a court hearing Monday that Mitchell Bellamy, a former city custodian, can amend his pending lawsuit to include claims that the city violated the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 when he was fired for cause nearly two years ago.
“It seems to me that North Myrtle Beach has got to be the most litigious municipality in the state, or they get sued a lot,” Hyman said while making his ruling.
The city recently has faced several lawsuits filed by former police officers and other employees who claim they were wrongfully terminated. Michael Battle, a lawyer representing the city, said the multiple legal actions are not an indication of any wrongdoing on the city’s part.
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“They just get sued a lot,” Battle said.
Kenneth Moss, a lawyer representing Bellamy, said the lawsuits stem from city officials who “don’t get it” and commit “willful violations” of the law.
In Bellamy’s case, for example, Moss said: “We’ve shown a prima facie case that they’re treating caucasian employees different [than black employees].”
Bellamy initially filed a lawsuit last year alleging the city violated the S.C. Wages Act by refusing to pay his accrued vacation time unless he signed a letter releasing the city from all future legal claims.
The discrimination claims stem from documents Moss discovered in February. Those documents show the city paid accrued vacation time to white employees who were terminated for cause without requiring them to sign a legal release. Bellamy, who is black, says he was treated differently because of his race.
The city has denied any wrongdoing in court documents and Battle said the city intends to fight Bellamy’s discrimination claims.
Court records show Bellamy had accrued 300 hours of vacation time when he was fired in September 2012. Moss said in court documents that state law considers the accrued time as wages that should have been paid. Bellamy is seeking the $3,000 he says he should have been paid, and state law allows him to recover three times that amount if the city is found in violation of the wages act.
The discrimination lawsuit likely will be moved to federal court now that it includes allegations the city violated Bellamy’s constitutional rights.
A second part of Bellamy’s lawsuit, which alleges the city violated the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, will remain in state court as a separate action.
Moss cites 15 alleged violations of the FOIA in which he says the City Council met in illegal closed meetings between June 2010 and August 2013. Moss said the council failed to give specific reason for meeting behind closed doors, instead using generic reasons such as “contractual matters” or “pending legal matters.”
“They’re still doing it,” Moss said during Monday’s court hearing. “They just violated it in July.”
Bellamy is seeking unspecified financial costs and attorney’s fees for the alleged FOIA violations.
No trial date has been set for either the discrimination or FOIA violation claims.