Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Lawsuits filed by two fired employees with the City of Columbia Parks and Recreation Department claim their names and reputation were slandered following an investigation into a teenage boy, sexually assaulting two different children at Lorick Park this past summer.
The two fired city employees say, they shouldn't have been fired because of these assaults, and that under staffing and lack of security were reported before the last assault happened.
"They never should have received any type of punishment like they did and they were clearly scapegoated as we see so often from mistakes and errors that other's make,” says Lewis Cromer, the attorney, representing both fired employees.
The First Employee
The first fired employee had a supervisory role at Lorick Park. The lawsuit claims that she was not present at the park when the alleged May 21 sexual assault of a 9-year-old girl by a teenage boy took place, but the suit says when she learned of it, she advised her staff to "report all relevant information to the city's central office."
The lawsuit says the city's central office acknowledged receiving information about the incident.
"The fact is that the investigation was never completed,” says Cromer. “The alleged perpetrator was never identified, so there never was any way to get at the heart of it."
According to the lawsuit that employee also made requests to add cameras to the inside and rear entrance of the park building, repair the digital sign-in system, and fix a hole in the fence near the train tracks.
The lawsuit says the city "failed to remedy these situations."
Two months later, when the reported July 28 assault happened and a 5-year-old boy was reportedly sexually assaulted by a 16-year-old boy at the park near those train tracks, this employee was on what the lawsuit calls “an approved vacation.”
When she returned, she says she was told that vacation created a staff shortage, causing children to be unsupervised. Ultimately contributing to that sexual assault incident and her firing.
In the beginning of October, News 19 requested the personnel files of these employees.
In the disciplinary action form for this employee, the form citied a recommendation for termination, referencing. "A proactive approach on the May 21, 2017 incident report could have very well averted the reoccurrence of a similar act on July 28, 2017 by the same individual."
The Second Employee
According to the lawsuit, the second fired employee, who oversaw multiple parks within the city, claims she reported being understaffed and requested more summer staff for all the summer programs.
"The choices that are made about staffing and the choices that are made about where the money is spent are set by the director and the people in that area,” says Cromer. “They are not set by my client."
This employee, the suit claims, was also not present at the park on July 28, when the 5-year-old was reportedly assaulted.
The lawsuit says, when she heard of the incident, she immediately reported it to her director and questioned staff at the park, who claimed they called the on-call supervisor at the time about the incident.
On August 1st, the lawsuit claims that this employee spoke with the Columbia City Manager and learned that the teen arrested in the July 28 assault, was not only accused of sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl earlier in the summer on May 21, but according this lawsuit, also a 3-year-old child back in 2016.
She was suspended for five days, later fire and told "she was effectively terminated for lack of direction and insight."
According to her disciplinary action form from the City, it states "Your lack of direction and supervision is considered a contributing factor to the incident at Lorick Park and also contributes to this violation at other locations."
"There's one plain fact that we've got to understand,” says Cromer. “Neither of the ladies were there when this occurred. Neither of these ladies could have done anything to prevent what occurred on that day. Neither of these ladies did anything that in any way caused this situation with this child and this alleged perpetrator."
We reached out to the City of Columbia about these lawsuits. At this time, they can't comment on pending litigation.