Five plaintiffs have been added to a sexual harassment lawsuit against Four-County Community Services and two of its employees.
Filed on Feb. 15 at the Scotland County Courthouse, an amended complaint added five women to a civil suit initially filed in September. The suit includes the allegations of a total of eight women, all of whom sought to obtain Section 8 housing benefits through Four-County in the last three years.
The suit names Four-County and two of its employees, John Wesley and Eric Pender, as defendants.
According to the lawsuit, Wesley and Pender threatened to withhold benefits if the women did not engage in sexual acts.
“In the course of seeking to obtain Section 8 benefits, each plaintiff was approached by Pender and/or Wesley with a demand that the plaintiff engage in sexual activity in exchange for favorable treatment …,” the lawsuit said. “Pender and/or Wesley threatened plaintiffs with detrimental treatment if this demand was denied.”
Officials with Four-County could not be reached by presstime.
Four-County, which is based in Laurinburg, operates a Section 8 housing program, Head Start, and a weatherization project. Pender was employed by Four-County to perform home inspections and Wesley’s job was to determine how Section 8 benefits are disbursed. Pender and Wesley remain employed there, the lawsuit states.
According to the suit, three of the women engaged in sexual acts with Pender and Wesley solely from fear of losing or not qualifying for benefits. The other five plaintiffs allege that their refusal to comply with Pender and Wesley has led to delay or denial of benefits for which they qualify.
“Wesley has specifically stated that he would not allow [the plaintiff] to receive Section 8 benefits because she reported an incident wherein Wesley attempted to solicit sex from her to Richard Greene, the executive director of FCCS,” the lawsuit said. “Upon information and belief, no action was taken against Wesley as a result of [the plaintiff’s] report.”
The suit also states that Pender and Wesley exposed their genitalia to several of the women, as well as making sexually suggestive phone calls and touching them without their consent. Pender and Wesley are also accused of intimidating potential plaintiffs and witnesses to sexual harassment.
“Upon learning that plaintiffs had retained an attorney for representation, FCCS, at the direction of its officers and directors, retaliated against several plaintiffs by refusing to grant such plaintiffs benefits for which they qualified,” the suit reads. “These retaliatory refusals were not limited to the Section 8 benefits program.”
All of the plaintiffs resided in Scotland County at the time that they were clients of Four-County.
Craig Hensel, the Greensboro lawyer representing the women, said that Four County is listed as a defendant because the agency bears some responsibility for the actions of its employees.
“Pender and Wesley’s actions toward plaintiffs and other women was widely known among the community and among their co-workers at FCCS,” the lawsuit said. “Had FCCS been reasonably diligent in its supervision, it would have been discovered by FCCS.”
Hensel added that before being employed by Four County, Pender was terminated from employment with the N.C. State Highway Patrol. News reports confirm Pender’s firing from the Highway Patrol, but do not give a reason. At the time, a patrol spokesman said that Pender’s dismissal was unrelated to anything done on the job. But Hensel said that Four County should have been aware of the prior termination and its supporting reasons.
“FCCS neither trained Pender and Wesley adequately resulting in their sexually extortive acts, nor supervised them adequately resulting in a failure to become aware of the acts and take appropriate disciplinary and preventative measures,” the lawsuit said.