CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – A Charleston-based employment attorney said it was rare for state law regarding student loans to lead to the firing of Charleston County Deputy Chief Joyce Smith last week.
“I don’t think it’s very common because this is the first time I’ve heard of this situation,” said employment lawyer Marybeth Mullaney, who has practiced for 15 years. “Fortunately, no one has called me who has lost their job or been fired for this reason.”
The Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office and the City of Charleston Police Department said they refer to state law regarding student loans as part of their policy.
This law, which was signed into law in 1980, states that no one can be employed by the state if they willfully default on a federal, medical, or law enforcement student loan.
“Voluntarily means you knew about it and didn’t do anything,” Mullaney said. “You knowingly broke the law.”
However, if the employee and a lender reach an agreement on a repayment plan, the employee can keep their job, according to state law.
“An employer is well within their rights to hire or not hire someone because they have defaulted or because they have bad credit as long as they do so in a consistent and non-discriminatory manner” , Mullaney said.
In South Carolina, the attorney adds, wages cannot be garnished for credit card payments and medical bills.
They can, however, be taken out for student loans, meaning Smith’s salary could have been garnished to pay off the debt.
“That, certainly, they could have had the lender, had the lender, asked for that and asked for wage garnishment,” Mullaney said. “It’s legal in this state for student loans.”
Earlier this week, President Biden extended the pause on student loan payments, collections and interest until the end of August.
The U.S. Department of Education said “the extension will give borrowers more time to plan for resuming payments, reducing the risk of delinquencies and defaults after the restart.”
Dorchester County says Sheriff LC Knight did not need to fire an employee because of his student loans.
No word yet from Charleston City Police if any officers or employees have been fired as a result of this law.
On Friday, representatives of the United Black Men of Charleston County called for the reinstatement of Joyce Smith at the Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston.
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