By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice on February 24, 2021
The town of Duck has paid out more than $315,000 to two female former town employees and their attorney in settlements related to the conduct of former Town Manager Chris Layton, who resigned last July after being charged with assault on his assistant.
Layton, who faces an April 8 court date in Dare County District Court on those charges, was appointed the interim town manager of Plymouth on Jan. 11. The selection of new Duck Town Manager, Drew Havens, was announced in January and he started in that position this month.
Information provided to the Voice by then Duck Interim Town Manager Joe Heard indicates that one such agreement paid $98,060 to one former employee as well as $56,940 in attorney fees while the other female employee received $105,880 with another $54,935 paid by the town in attorney fees. One of the women who received a settlement was the alleged victim in the incident that led to the assault charge.
A third former employee, former Duck Police Chief John Cueto, received $12,000 dollars from the town with another $6,000 paid in attorney fees. Cueto, who began working for the Town of Duck in 2015, retired five years later, in August 2020.
Heard said the North Carolina League of Municipalities, through an insurance program, reimbursed the town $170,000 in conjunction with two of the settlements, all of which were made in the second half of 2020.
The two settlements with the female employees came amid reports that Layton created an uncomfortable and inappropriate work environment. The larger payment went to a former employee who was allegedly subjected to sexually harassing behavior that ranged from text messages to touching, to the point that there was concern about her emotional well-being.
The other payment went to a former employee who had experienced forms of harassment in the workplace. Those allegations included instances when the former town manager threw items at her, a charge that is part of the criminal assault case as well. The two women also reportedly made an agreement to ensure that neither would be left alone with Layton.
The Voice, as do many news organizations, has a policy of not publishing the names of women who are alleged victims of sexual or other forms of physical harassment
In an email to the Voice, Heard characterized the payments as made “pursuant to agreements negotiated and authorized by the Duck Town Council.” He said the rest of the details related to those agreements are “confidential” and declined to comment further, citing “confidential personnel matters.”
Duck Mayor Don Kingston emailed a comment to the Voice stating that, “The Council understands and endorses transparency in local government, but we are prohibited by North Carolina law from providing information about confidential personnel matters…But I can tell you that the Town Council and staff have been working very hard since this summer to continue moving the Town forward, and we are excited to have our new Town Manager, Drew Havens, to lead our staff.”
Kris Felthousen, the attorney representing Layton in the criminal matter, told the Voice that neither he nor his client wished to comment at this point, “since there are matters related [to these allegations] currently pending before the Dare County District Court.”
According to the arrest report on the July assault incident, Layton, now 51, was arrested in his office in the town’s administration building on July 15 by two Duck Police officers and taken into custody, transported to the Dare County Detention Center, and released on an unsecured $5,000 bond. The original trial date, since pushed back, had been scheduled for last Aug. 21.