A Midlands attorney and former member of Lexington County Council harbored a toxic culture of sexism and sexual harassment at his law firm, according to a federal lawsuit filed by a former employee.
‘I am your king. I’m your god,” Lexington County Councilman Billy R. Oswald happily told his female employees, according to the lawsuit filed on Sept. 8.
“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 Midlands personal injury lawyer and political figure, for alleging he fostered a toxic culture of sexism and abuse in his law firm, Oswald & Burnside.
The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that 74-year-old Oswald groped the employee, calling female customers and workers “b—–s” and performing “sexual acts” with prostitutes in the office conference room during working hours.
Oswald said he had “no comment” when the state contacted him.
“We stand by the allegations in the complaint,” said the former employee’s attorney, Jack Cohoon.
The former employee claims Oswald, who has held multiple elected and appointed positions in the Midlands, has created a workplace swirling with “sexual talk, innuendo and gossip”.
The employee, who is not named by the state because the lawsuit contains allegations that she is a victim of sexual assault, started working for Oswald around 2009. Enlisted as a paralegal, the employee eventually became an unofficial office manager at the Oswald & Burnside law firm with duties ranging from secretarial work to collecting rent from the tenants of Oswald’s properties.
On multiple occasions, Oswald grabbed the former employee’s breasts, “put his hand to her vagina” and exposed his genitals to employees.
The lawsuit describes a culture of overt sexism, where Oswald demanded sexual favors from female employees in exchange for a pay rise. In an incident described in the lawsuit, Oswald is said to have told a group of female employees over lunch that he would pay them $15,000 more a year if they “performed sexual acts with him multiple 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 from cases she helped solve. With the door closed, Oswald refused, reportedly telling her, “You all make more than enough money. You just have to take care of me.”
The employee alleges that prostitutes — some of whom were Oswald’s clients and tenants — have engaged in sexual acts with Oswald in the office over the years. In the lawsuit, the employee said she heard moans and recalled 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 resigned after Oswald refused her a raise. In response to her request, which would be her first pay raise since 2014, Oswald allegedly called the employee an “ungrateful b—-“.
“You haven’t earned a raise. You don’t deserve it. The only thing you’re good for is lying on your back,” Oswald is said to have said.
The employee’s lawsuit also alleges that Oswald stopped paying her around April 2020. In the early months of the pandemic, Oswald became increasingly “engaged in a scheme to make money by applying for unemployment benefits and CARES Act funds for 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.
In November 2020, the employee filed a discrimination complaint with the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission. In it, she alleged gender discrimination and retaliation.
The lawsuit is said to have been filed after the employee tried to reach a solution with Oswald.
Through his decades-long career in Lexington County, Oswald has become deeply entangled in the political and legal world of the Midland. Since establishing his Western Columbia law firm in 1988, Oswald has also served on the provincial and state bars. In addition to serving on Lexington County Council, Oswald was the South Carolina director for Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign and later unsuccessfully ran in the Republican primaries for State House District 89 in 2016 and 2018.
Oswald previously served on the Lexington County Board of Education, the South Carolina Health Planning Committee, and the board of directors of Lexington Medical Center.
The lawsuit also names Oswald’s law firm and several LLCs that Oswald allegedly uses to conduct business.