LAURINBURG — Four-County Community Services, which has an office in Robeson County, is being sued over allegations of sexual harassment and coercion.
The civil lawsuit, filed earleir this month, names Four-County and two of its employees, John Wesley and Eric Pender, as defendants. The lawsuit lists the names of three women as plaintiffs, but The Robesonian 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.”
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. Four-County is based in Laurinburg, but has offices in Robeson, Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus and Hoke counties. It operates a Section 8 housing program, Head Start, and a weatherization project.
Rodney Pettey, a lawyer representing Four-County Services, said he plans to file a response to the lawsuit during 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 said that before being employed by Four-County, Pender was fired by the state. Highway Patrol. 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 previous 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.”