The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 14, 2013

Settlement reached in Sophia discrimination case


Peck fired McDowell in March 2012. Days after his firing, McDowell says Peck told him he’d misunderstood her and was suspended, not fired. But his final check had an attached letter stating that he was fired for failing to meet with Peck on March 24.

His paycheck was $770 less after a withholding.

McDowell was fired for not paying his tab at a local chain restaurant, a charge McDowell alleged was false. According to McDowell’s suit, a server had told McDowell that a drink from the bar was “on the house.”  However, the suit alleged that Beckley Police officers later coached the server to say McDowell left without paying his tab.

Peck then fired him, according to the suit.

McDowell was found guilty in Raleigh Magistrate court of defrauding an innkeeper, a misdemeanor stemming from the alleged incident, in February. McDowell has appealed that conviction in Raleigh County Circuit Court.

After a settlement was reached, U.S. District Judge Irene Berger granted a joint motion filed by McDowell, Peck and the Town of Sophia that dropped Peck from the civil rights suit. McDowell was awarded $600,000 by AIG Property and Casualty, insurance carrier for the town.

The details of the settlement were first reported by the West Virginia Record, which filed a Freedom of Information Request with the town of Sophia after terms of the settlement were not disclosed in court documents.

Peck denied Tuesday that she’d allowed her officers to harass McDowell. When asked if she is racist, Peck said no, adding that she has worked in the justice system for years with people of different races and has never had trouble. “I hired (McDowell),” Peck said. “They did not have a black officer.

“How in the world can he say I was racist? It makes no sense.” She said she believes AIG representatives agreed to the settlement to avoid court costs and the cost of McDowell’s attorneys. Beckley attorney James Sheatsley represented the town. McDowell was represented by Charleston attorneys Mark Goldner and Maria Hughes. Hughes declined to comment Tuesday, citing privacy agreements related to the settlement.  Sheatsley did not immediately return telephone calls Tuesday.

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