Fairfield Co. Council approved $50,000 settlement for wife & niece-in-law of councilmembers

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Published: Jul. 26, 2022 at 9:29 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 26, 2022 at 9:46 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Newly obtained county documents show the Fairfield County Council voted to approve a $50,000 settlement with the wife and niece-in-law of two county councilmembers.

On June 13, the council voted 6-0 to approve an agreement with former employee Diana Robinson over her allegations of discrimination in the workplace.

Her husband, Councilman Cornelius Robinson, recused himself from the vote and appeared to remove himself from the executive session where the issue was discussed beforehand.

Councilman Mikel Trapp did not recuse himself from the vote, motioned for the settlement to be approved, and voted to approve it. Cornelius confirmed Trapp is his uncle through marriage.

South Carolina state law does not require aunts nor uncles in positions of power to recuse themselves from votes related to their families. Trapp declined to comment.

Diana’s attorney Jay Babb sent a statement to WIS reading:

By letter of October 15, 2021 to Fairfield County, I conveyed Ms. Robinson’s serious concerns and potential legal claims in regards to how her employment ended with the County. This letter, which speaks for itself, was sent to the County less than a month after Ms. Robinson’s employment ended. The resolution was negotiated by employment lawyers on both sides. As is customary with a government entity settlement, the settlement was approved by Council with a 6-0 vote. Councilman Robinson recused himself from the vote. This was a pre-litigation settlement negotiated between a former employee and their employer who were both represented by competent employment attorneys. Any assertion that Ms. Robinson somehow obtained this settlement by improper means through specific council members is absolutely false. Her husband, Councilman Robinson, recused himself from the vote. Councilman Trapp (her husband’s uncle through marriage) did not have a financial stake in the outcome and was not required to recuse himself as a matter of state ethics law. He was also not involved with any discussions between the parties and the vote would have passed regardless.

The letter referenced in his statement is to the county administration and laid out a series of allegations against the county, including:

  • Mrs. Robinson was spoken to in a threatening and hostile tone in the workplace
  • Mrs. Robinson was confronted over her use of social media and told to cease the use of her personal social media accounts
  • Mrs. Robinson was forced to resign
  • Mrs. Robinson was passed up for raises her white counterparts received
  • Mrs. Robinson expressed concern regarding the promotion of less qualified white employees

As part of the agreement, Diana signed a document on July 12 freeing the county from liability related to these claims. It also required she withdrawal her administrative charges filed with the Equal Opportunity Commission and the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission.

Fairfield County Administrator Malik Whitaker confirmed to WIS the $50,000 was paid out of the general fund.

He said in a statement:

The initial decision regarding the employment was made by the Interim County Administrator. Once the matter was contested, the Human Resources Department worked with Fairfield County’s employment counsel to develop the County’s position. Without going into discussions with employment counsel, I can only say the case was settled.

Councilman Douglas Pauley said the council was aware of Trapp’s relationship with the Robinsons when the vote happened, but it was not a topic of conversation.

In an interview on July 26, he said Trapp should have recused himself.

“Usually in matters pertaining to family members when it solely benefits that particular individual in most cases you are supposed to recuse yourself from being involved in the vote,” he said.

Meeting video and minutes show Pauley voted to approve the vote. He told WIS he was not given adequate information to make an informed decision on it.

He forwarded WIS an email from him to Chairman Moses Bell asking for the vote to be reconsidered and place back on the agenda. Bell declined in a response and told WIS on Tuesday the votes wouldn’t be there for there to be a different outcome.

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