As part of the $52,100 settlement of sexual harassment lawsuit by former Asheville Police Department officer Cherie Byrd against the city of Asheville and her former superior Eric Lauffer, the city received back all of the documents it provided to Byrd, according to records obtained by Xpress.
“We are trying to maintain as much confidentiality [as possible] as this is a personnel matter,” minutes from the April 12 closed session quote Rendi Mann-Stadt, an outside attorney representing the city in the case, as saying. As part of the terms of the settlement, a protective order on the case remains in effect, and Byrd is required to return all documents provided to her or her attorneys by the city.
Lauffer, who is still employed by the APD, though he was demoted following the lawsuit, sent Byrd explicit and racially offensive text messages while she was under his command as part of the Drug Suppression Unit. Byrd alleged that both APD officials and city staff failed to respond to her complaints and, after receiving a go-ahead from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sued Lauffer and the city last year. She has since left the department. A Dec. 14 city attorney’s memo updating Council on the case asserted that after medical and maternity leave, “Ms. Byrd has refused offers to return to work.”
The same memo declares that “the City appears to have several strong defenses, but the matter is still in the discovery phase, so the strength of the case and the potential damages (which could include attorney’s fees) are difficult to estimate at this time.”
The documents also reveal that the amount of the settlement — $48,000 in back wages and $4,100 in mediation fees — was arrived at after a day-long mediation between the parties in late March. On April 12, Council member Bill Russell made the motion for the settlement, which Council member Gordon Smith seconded. The minutes don’t record any discussion or comments by anyone of the elected officials, and they approved the settlement unanimously.
An April 1 memo to Council from City Attorney Bob Oast reveals that details about the settlement were leaked to news media, “and that the media has begun contacting City officials.” At the closed session, Council authorized Oast to release the details of the settlement.
— David Forbes, senior news reporter