Lawyer issues statement on Crystal Moore termination

The town of Latta is hoping they put they Crystal Moore employment dispute to rest Thursday night after voting in support of the administrator's decision to fire the former chief.

LATTA, SC (WBTW) – On Friday former Latta Chief of Police Crystal Moore’s lawyer released an in depth statement on Moore’s termination Thursday night.

In the statement, Malissa Burnette claims that Moore’s termination was a way of shifting attention from Town Administrator Jarett Taylor’s mishandling of a sexual harassment case.

Burnette says she has reason to believe Taylor and the town’s Mayor Pro Tempore, Brian Mason, knew about the complaint but took no action.

Moore had just returned to the police chief position following a five day suspension at the end of August.

Derrick Cartwright will serve as the interim police chief.

You can read the full statement below.

“The real issue underlying the termination of Chief Moore is that Jarett Taylor needed to divert attention from the fact that he failed to adhere to law and policy when a young female employee reported that a department head under Taylor’s supervision was sexually harassing her. Taylor did not conduct an immediate investigation or take appropriate action as required by law and policy, but instead protected the man, and the sexual harassment continued.

The young woman finally came to Chief Moore on August 12 and asked to file a criminal report against the perpetrator. Since the perpetrator was  a Town employee and Moore was related to him by marriage, she properly (to avoid an appearance of conflict of interest) had a County Deputy called to take the report. While the young lady was present, Chief Moore tried twice to call Taylor, to whom she reports, but he did not answer his phone and his voice mail was full. When the deputy arrived, she texted Taylor to tell him a deputy was at town hall to take a sexual harassment report from a town employee. (I have the text message)

Taylor did not respond to the text until August 13 and asked for details. Chief Moore responded, including saying that the young woman had said she had already reported the sexual harassment to Taylor but it had continued. (I have the text messages)

We believe that the Mayor Pro Tempore, Brian Mason, also had direct knowledge of the sexual harassment complaint through communications with the young woman or her relatives. He took no steps to investigate or take any appropriate action.

Later on August 13, Taylor asked Chief Moore to write a statement that the perpetrator had no “ill intent” with his actions. Chief Moore declined. (I have the text messages) Taylor then retaliated by issuing a written reprimand to which he attached a one-page narrative misstating the facts and implying that he had no prior knowledge of the sexual harassment of the young woman. On August 22, to further deflect attention from his own failure to properly handle the sexual harassment matter, Taylor issued three more reprimands and suspended Chief Moore.

Interestingly, all Town employees, including those who are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act, were ordered on August 15th to begin clocking in and out.

Chief Moore was properly performing her duties by assisting the young woman in protecting her right to be from sexual harassment in the workplace. She had a responsibility to act immediately, which she did. She also took immediate measures to report the matter to Taylor, who then apparently realized his own failure to follow law and procedure would be revealed. (SLED is now investigating the woman’s complaint and the perpetrator apparently is no longer employed by the Town.) Taylor’s reaction was to quickly issue a series of write-ups and suspend Chief Moore to put the spotlight on her. Such retaliation is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I put the Council on notice on September 7 of the above facts and that Chief Moore had participated in an activity protected by law and was not to be retaliated against. I further noted that I was evaluating the potential liability of individuals who would intentionally inflict emotional distress or defame her just days before Chief Moore underwent chemotherapy for treatment of cancer.

The Town fired Chief Moore on September 8th, apparently in executive session. We are not aware of a public vote being taken.

Further, I placed the Town on notice of a litigation hold, stating that all documents, electronic devices (including personal), social media postings, and information was to be preserved, and that any deletion, alteration, manipulation, destruction or concealment would result in spoliation of evidence.

I understand that Mr. Taylor has since deleted his Facebook account.

The bottom line is this: it’s not about the write-ups. They are pretextual and would not have been created but for Taylor’s (and perhaps Mason’s and the Council’s) desire to retaliate against Chief Moore for helping the victim of sexual harassment, which would inevitably lead to evidence of wrongdoing at the highest levels of Town governance.”

Jarrett Taylor provided News13 this statement in response to Moore’s attorney:

After reading statements released by the media from Mrs. Moore’s representative, I am upset at her allegations and want to clarify the town actions discussed in her letter.  I am not sure where these alleged statements are generated from but town files are kept private unless there was, in fact, a deeper breach of personnel files by Mrs. Moore than previously thought and this will be further looked into.  The town will stand by the right to keep all information regarding this purported harassment issue private, but we maintain that the issue has been handled to the best of our ability and in accordance with town policy.  On August 13, 2016, myself and two other council members presented Mrs. Moore a reprimand related to Policy #1-3, page 9 that states Any employee who feels he or she has been sexually harassed should immediately report the incident to his or her supervisor.  Should the employee feel they cannot discuss this problem with their supervisor, they should report the incident to their department head, or the Mayor or the designee.  Any supervisor who receives a complaint of sexual harassment should immediately report it to the department head, or the Mayor or the designee.  Video surveillance footage of town hall shows Mrs. Moore’s account of events.  There was over an hour delay in attempting to notify any supervisor.  Mrs. Moore had the possibility to contact two immediate council members as supervisors or an assistant administrator (council member) in the absence of my ability to be reached.  No other attempts were made to contact the first three members of council due to my unavailability.  Members of council thought it to be inappropriate to wait so long when town policy dictates immediately.

Mrs. Moore’s representative also make a claim that, “Later on August 13, Taylor asked Chief Moore to write a statement that the perpetrator had no “ill intent” with his actions. Chief Moore declined. (I have the text messages) Taylor then retaliated by issuing a written reprimand to which he attached a one-page narrative misstating the facts and implying that he had no prior knowledge of the sexual harassment of the young woman.”  I have provided WBTW with a copy of that entire text message.  The text message in question from me states, “Hey, I was tired last night and I apologize for being as drained as I was.  I think I recall last night that you said that you didn’t think (an employee name) had any ill intent with his actions.  Can you write a statement to the fact of what you saw and how you felt about the interaction?  Thanks.”  Mrs. Moore responded six minutes later, “No, I said I have never seen anything.  All I have heard was he said, she said stuff.  I never have witness anything personally.” I respond with, “I see thanks.”  This text clearly show a date of August 20, 2016 at 1:16 p.m.  This text came seven days after the initial reprimand given to Mrs. Moore dealing with the harassment issue.  Each employee that claimed to know something was asked to give a written statement as the town investigated those allegations.  The above text was my contact with Mrs. Moore for her statement.  Mrs. Moore’s representative stated above her lack of response is what generated the first reprimand.  In fact, Mrs. Moore clearly responded and gave a statement.

The above incident was the only incident that directly involved any employee harassment.  Mrs. Moore has received a reprimand for lack of police maintenance records because there have been an increase in repairs, a reprimand for going into an employee file which is unrelated to the police department and looking at unauthorized information, a reprimand for discussing a departing employee’s salary at another job during an open council meeting, and the latest termination reprimand that I feel speaks for itself.  Mrs. Moore’s continued insistence that she did no wrong, coupled with her contribution to the depletion of employee morale forced the council to make the decision that was made.  Our continued thoughts and well wishes are with Mrs. Moore in her future endeavors, but we feel like we must do what is best for the citizens of Latta and the current employees of Latta.

Respectfully,

Jarett Taylor

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