City of Charlotte has spent $13.3 million to defend, settle lawsuits over four years

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The City of Charlotte has spent more than $13 million to defend and settle lawsuits over the past four years.

The total is based on information provided to WBTV by the city attorney's office in response to a public records request by the station.

The records show a city willing to defend itself in court but also reach a deal with some plaintiffs in order to avoid further litigation.

Out of the more than $13.3 million paid by the city to defend and settle litigation, more than $8.8 million was paid in settlements, attorneys fees and other costs to settle a lawsuit or pay a judgment.

The remaining amount went to attorney's fees, mediation fees and expert witness costs incurred by the city in the course of litigation.

"The City of Charlotte is a $2.4 billion enterprise with more than 8,000 employees," Jordan-Ashley Walker, a city spokeswoman, said in a statement. "In providing critical services such as police, fire, transit, water, and sewer to the city's 800,000 residents, the city does incur some liability."

While the city made information about hundreds of lawsuits public, a review of the records produced also found some cases in which the city had taken steps to keep terms of its settlement agreements secret.

At least six of the settlement agreements provided to WBTV by the city included confidentiality clauses, which prevent the person receiving the settlement payout from discussing the terms of the agreement.

Other settlement agreements included redactions to the terms of the agreement.

The Public Records Act specifically requires settlement agreements entered into by government agencies to be made public.

The cases in which portions of the settlement agreement were redacted were all lawsuits brought by former city employees alleging discrimination, retaliation or unjust firing.

"Redacting personnel information from settlement agreements involving employees or former employees harmonizes the personnel privacy requirements of G.S. 160A-168 with the disclosure requirements of G.S. 132-1.3," Walker said in a statement.

She also defended the city's use of confidentiality clauses in some cases.

"Confidentiality clauses are commonly used in settlement agreements. Retained counsel are not always familiar with the public records law and sometimes include confidentiality clauses in City settlement agreements," Walker said. "But the fact that the agreements have been provided despite such clauses demonstrates that the city recognizes that settlement agreements are public records pursuant to G.S. 132-1.3."

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