PEMBROKE — A former Miss Lumbee is suing the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, claiming that the tribe covered up incidents of sexual harassment and battery that occurred while she worked in the tribe’s Housing Department.
Charlotte attorney Josh Van Kampen filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Mecklenburg County Superior Court on behalf of Ashley Haywood, a Lumberton resident and Miss Lumbee 2008. Among other things, the lawsuit says that an employee of the tribe groped and forcibly kissed Haywood.
The lawsuit says the incidents date back to late 2009 and claims infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment, battery and wrongful termination. Those listed as defendants in the lawsuit include Lumbee Tribe Enterprises, Jimmy Hunt, and current tribal Chairman Paul Brooks. Hunt is a candidate for Tribal Council in next month’s election.
A spokesman for the tribe on Wednesday would not comment, saying that the tribe has not yet been served with the lawsuit.
Hunt, who is a reverend, told The Robesonian on Wednesday that all of the charges are “bogus” and “lies.”
Hunt, who was Haywood’s supervisor in the tribe’s Housing Department, said that Haywood began making allegations against him after he told her that if her work didn’t improve, he would “have to let her go.”
“It’s all about finances,” Hunt said. “Her work was so substandard I tried to help her and I had others work with her to try to improve her work.
“I welcome my day in court. I want to clear my name.”
In her lawsuit, Haywood alleges she was verbally and physically harassed by Hunt between October 2009 — shortly after she was hired by the tribe as a housing specialist — and January 2010. She continued to work for the tribe until she was fired June 19 of this year.
The lawsuit contends that Hunt made statements to Haywood such as, “My wife doesn’t fulfill my needs so I need a young woman like you to do that,” and downloaded a pornographic video on her computer, asking, “Can you do that?”
The lawsuit says that Hunt on Nov. 3, 2009, shoved Haywood into a corner of her office, grabbed her waist, pressed himself against her, groped her and forcibly kissed her.
According to the lawsuit, when Haywood reported Hunt’s actions, she was told by tribal officials she would be fired if she should pursue the complaint.
Hunt allegedly continued to abuse Haywood until January 2010, when she was told by tribal officials that Hunt was gone and would “never be hired back.”
In May of this year, Brooks hired Hunt back for three weeks before firing him. Hunt said Wednesday that Brooks gave him no reason for why he was fired.
The lawsuit contends that when Brooks re-hired Hunt, Haywood had to be hospitalized as a result of a panic attack. She missed three days of work, the lawsuit says.
Haywood filed a grievance June 8 with Brooks and the tribe’s Human Resources Department concerning Hunt’s rehiring, according to the lawsuit. On June 15, she was suspended. She was fired four days later for insubordination, the lawsuit contends.
Van Kampen told The Robesonian on Wednesday that the lawsuit was filed in Mecklenburg County so that Haywood could get a fair trial. He said he did not believe that was possible in Robeson County.
Van Kampen said the case is “unique” in regards to the degree of the sexual abuse and the fact that the “tribal entity turned blind eyes” to Haywood’s allegations of abuse when she reported the incidents.
According to the lawsuit, Haywood is seeking damages as well as lost back and future wages and benefits.