Knightdale settles discrimination lawsuit with former police officer

aspecht@newsobserver.comJune 12, 2013 

Vickie Powers

TOWN OF KNIGHTDALE

— The town will pay $15,000 to end a legal battle with a former police officer who sued Knightdale claiming she was wrongfully demoted in 2010 as the result of discrimination against her age, gender and sexual orientation.

Vickie Powers, now 56, sued Knightdale in December, a year after retiring and filing a complaint against Knightdale with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Knightdale said it demoted Powers from shift supervisor to community outreach officer because she failed a state-mandated firearm accuracy test 23 times. Mayor Russell Killen has said Knightdale kept Powers on staff – albeit, in a lesser capacity – as “a courtesy” to Powers so she could work long enough to become eligible for retirement benefits at the end of 2011.

Powers said her struggles were the result of anxiety caused by a “hostile work environment.”

In her lawsuit, Powers notes that she was the only female officer on Knightdale’s police staff in 2010 when Detective Don Ayscue and Officer Ricky Todd mocked and “belittled” her. During firearms training, Powers said Ayscue once pulled away from a barricade by the belt buckle. According to the lawsuit, Powers passed the firearms accuracy tests after Town Manager Seth Lawless allowed her to train with an independent instructor – but by that time, she had already been demoted.

Powers also claimed Officer Jason Godwin, who is now police chief, asked her if she thought she was “too old to answer traffic calls” and that Shawn Brown, Knightdale’s former public safety director, made an inappropriate, but unspecified, comment about her sexual orientation.

The EEOC said it supported Powers’ right to sue, but said it was “unable to conclude” through an investigation that Knightdale violated statutes.

Knightdale officials deny Powers’ claims, and Killen said the settlement includes no admission of wrongdoing.

Knightdale’s motivation for the settlement was to stop financial “bleeding,” Killen said. The town spent more than $56,000 cooperating with the EEOC investigation and battling Powers in court. The settlement does not require Knightdale to pay Powers’ attorneys fees.

Powers and Gay declined to comment Tuesday. The settlement includes a non-disparagement clause, prohibits Powers from talking about the deal and waives Powers’ right to sue Knightdale in the future.

The agreement is expected to become official after a vote by Knightdale Town Council on June 19.

Specht: 919-829-4826

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