WMBF Investigates: How Myrtle Beach handled a sexual harassment complaint

WMBF Investigates: How Myrtle Beach handled a sexual harassment complaint

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The City of Myrtle Beach has just one sexual harassment complaint in all its records. An employee filed it in April 2013. A WMBF News investigation reveals how the city handled it.

The form itself does not have a place to name who the complaint is against. Connie Rutledge, the human resources administrator at the time, records she advised the complainant of the city's commitment to prevent retaliation, the city's policy on confidentiality and the city's right to investigate the complaint, even if the complainant does not choose to pursue it.

Rutledge did not report advising the complainant of the meaning and importance of the city's sexual harassment policy or the penalties for making improper charges. Both lines of this part of the form were left blank.

Rutledge writes that she made notes of the allegations, but no notes were provided to WMBF News. The form also said the complainant was told the complaint had to be submitted in writing, and that letter was attached. The name of the person complained about was also redacted in that letter.

The letter describes a situation between the victim and her director. The victim said her director looked at her chest and made an inappropriate comment, then made another comment about the situation later in the day.

WMBF News has decided not to release who the complaint was filed against because the victim in the case did not come to us with the allegations. The employee at the center of the case admitted wrongdoing and was punished in 2013.

City manager John Pedersen sent a letter to the director involved in the case eight days after the complaint was filed. The letter confirms the director acknowledged making inappropriate remarks and informs the director he was suspended without pay for a week. The employee was also sent to the next sexual harassment training session.

"As a department head your actions set the tone for the conduct of the employees in your department," Pedersen's letter reads. "The type of comments that you made in this case cannot be tolerated by any employee, but they are even more egregious when made by a department head to an employee over which you have authority."

Pedersen explained a zero-tolerance policy that the director should get a handle on.

"If there is any repetition of this behavior," the letter reads, "I will have no choice but to recommend your dismissal."

Pedersen ends the letter assuring the director he has high regard for him professionally, "and for you personally as a colleague and as a friend. I am available to help you in any way to get past this."

Pedersen did not agree to an interview to go over the city's response to this situation. He did say in an email his response in 2013 speaks for itself.

"The city takes any allegation of harassment seriously, with a prompt investigation and appropriate action," the email reads. "Fortunately, it's a very rare problem."

More sexual harassment allegations about the same employee were emailed to two Myrtle Beach City Council members in April 2017. Through a two-month-long investigation, Pedersen found those allegations unsubstantiated and closed the case.

The city does have an official policy against sexual harassment. It details how to file a complaint and what could constitute harassment. The policy's corrective action section says employees may be disciplined if a complaint has merit. It does not list specific disciplinary action.

Dig Deeper: Below is a copy of the original harassment form, on Pedersen's response:

Copyright 2017 WMBF News. All rights reserved.