Billy R. Oswald sued in federal court for sexual harassment
A Midlands attorney and former Lexington County Council member fostered a toxic culture of sexism and sexual harassment at his law firm, according to a federal complaint filed by a former employee.
“I am your king. I am your god,” Lexington County Councilman Billy R. Oswald liked to say to his employees, according to the Sept. 8 lawsuit.
“You will do what I tell you to do as long as you work here.”
A former office manager is now suing Oswald, a prominent personal injury lawyer and Midlands political figure, alleging he fostered a toxic culture of sexism and abuse at his law firm, Oswald & Burnside.
Among other charges, the lawsuit claims 74-year-old Oswald groped the employee, called female customers and workers ‘b—–s’ and engaged in ‘sex acts’ with prostitutes in the office conference room during working hours. .
Oswald said he had “no comment” when contacted by the state.
“We stand by the allegations contained in the complaint,” said the former employee’s attorney, Jack Cohoon.
The former employee alleges that Oswald, who has held several elected and appointed positions in the Midlands, created a workplace swirling with ‘sex talk, innuendo and gossip’.
The employee, who is not named by the state because the lawsuit includes allegations that she was a victim of sexual assault, began working for Oswald around 2009. Hired as a paralegal, the employee eventually became unofficial office manager at Oswald & Burnside. law firm with duties ranging from secretarial work to collecting rent from tenants of Oswald properties.
On several occasions, Oswald grabbed the former employee’s breasts, placed “his hand near her vagina” and exposed her genitals to the workers.
The lawsuit describes a culture of overt sexism, where Oswald demanded sexual favors from female employees in exchange for raises. In an incident described in the lawsuit, Oswald allegedly told a group of female employees over lunch that he would pay them an extra $15,000 a year if they performed “sex acts on him several times a week.”
In another incident in February 2020, Oswald was in the employee’s office when she asked if she would get a bonus for business she helped settle. With the door closed, Oswald refused, telling her, “You all make more than enough money. You just have to take care of me.
The employee alleges that over the years, prostitutes – some of whom were Oswald’s clients and tenants – performed sexual acts on Oswald in the office. In the lawsuit, the employee recounted hearing moans and remembering at least one incident when she saw a woman perform a sex act on Oswald through a cracked door.
In June 2020, the employee finally quit after Oswald denied her a raise. In response to her request, which would have been her first raise since 2014, Oswald reportedly called the employee “b—-ungrateful.”
“You didn’t deserve a raise. You don’t deserve it. The only thing you’re good at is lying on your back,” Oswald reportedly said.
The employee’s lawsuit also alleges that Oswald stopped paying her around April 2020. During the early months of the pandemic, Oswald became increasingly “busy with a money-making scheme by asking unemployment benefits and CARES Act funds for the people.” At the same time, Oswald ordered all of his employees to file for unemployment while continuing to work for the company, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was allegedly filed after the employee tried to reach a resolution with Oswald.
During his decades-long career in Lexington County, Oswald became deeply involved in the political and legal world of Midland. Since founding his West Columbia law firm in 1988, Oswald has also served on county and state bars. In addition to serving on the Lexington County Board, Oswald served as the South Carolina manager for Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign and later ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primaries for State House District 89 in 2016 and 2018.
Oswald previously held positions on the Lexington County Board of Education, the South Carolina Health Planning Committee, and the Lexington Medical Center Board of Trustees.
The lawsuit also names Oswald’s law firm and several limited liability companies that Oswald allegedly used to conduct business.