Three women are suing Four-County Community Services over allegations of sexual harassment and coercion.
The civil lawsuit, filed on Sept. 10 at the Scotland County Court, names Four-County and two of its employees, John Wesley and Eric Pender, as defendants.
The lawsuit lists the women’s names, but The Laurinburg Exchange does not divulge the identities of alleged victims of sexual assault or harassment.
According to the lawsuit, Wesley and Pender threatened to withhold agency benefits if the women did not engage in sexual acts.
“In the course of seeking to obtain Section 8 benefits, each plaintiff was approached by Pender, Wesley with a demand to engage in sexual activity in exchange for favorable treatment …,” the lawsuit said. “Pender and Wesley threatened plaintiffs with detrimental treatment if this demand was denied.”
Four-County, which is based in Laurinburg, operates a Section 8 housing program, Head Start, and a weatherization project. The incidents occurred over the course of two years, according to Craig Hensel, the plaintiffs’ attorney.
Pender was employed to perform home inspections and Wesley’s job was to determine how Section 8 benefits are disbursed.
It is unclear if the pair are still employed with the nonprofit. Efforts to reach officials at Four-County were unsuccessful.
Rodney Pettey, a lawyer representing Four-County Services, said he plans to file a response to the lawsuit over the next 30 days. He declined to talk about specific allegations made in the lawsuit.
“What I can say is that we feel strongly about our position and will strongly defend our case,” Pettey said.
He added that he represents the agency and expects Pender and Wesley to retain their own attorneys.
Hensel, the Greensboro lawyer representing the women, said that Four County is listed as a defendant because the agency bears some responsibility for the actions of its employees.
“Pender and Wesley’s actions toward plaintiffs and other women was widely known among the community and among their co-workers at FCCS,” the lawsuit said. “Had FCCS been reasonably diligent in its supervision, it would have been discovered by FCCS.”
Hensel added that before being employed by Four County, Pender was terminated from employment with the N.C. State Highway Patrol. News reports confirm Pender’s firing from the Highway Patrol, but do not give a reason. At the time, a patrol spokesman said that Pender’s dismissal was unrelated to anything done on the job.
But Hensel said that Four County should have been aware of the prior termination and its supporting reasons.
“FCCS neither trained Pender and Wesley adequately resulting in their sexually extortive acts, nor supervised them adequately resulting in a failure to become aware of the acts and take appropriate disciplinary and preventative measures,” the lawsuit said.
Asked if any of the plaintiffs had criminal records, Hensel said all three had been involved in “petty crimes.”
“None of these women have had an easy life and they don’t have perfect records,” Hensel said. “But as far as I know none has been convicted of fraud or anything that would go against their credibility.”