Iowa to pay $448K to settle doctor's age bias case

Iowa settles age discrimination lawsuit filed by 81-year-old doctor for $448,000

Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Iowa taxpayers will pay more than $448,000 to settle an age discrimination lawsuit filed by an 81-year-old doctor fired after working just eight days at a state home for the disabled.

The State Appeal Board approved the settlement with Dr. Zane Hurkin, of Clive, on Monday.

Hurkin filed a lawsuit in Polk County District Court in 2010 after he was fired from the Woodward Resource Center. Hurkin alleged he "was subjected to discriminatory treatment and harassment due to his age, was denied at least one of his job responsibilities, was refused training, had his hours and pay reduced, was paid unequally, and was terminated." Court documents say the pay scale for the job was between $162,843 and $231,608. However, he was paid $105,000 a year.

The lawsuit alleges Hurkin's supervisor, Dr. Som Lerd, asked him a number of age-related questions during the job interview in January 2010 including, "Why do you want to work at your age?" The lawsuit alleges Lerd set Hurkin up for failure.

Lerd and the center's superintendent, Marsha Edgington-Bott, did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Spokesmen for the Iowa Department of Human Services, which oversees Woodward, had no immediate comment.

"We felt it was in the state's best interest to resolve the case," said Geoff Greenwood, the spokesman for the Iowa attorney general's office, which represented the state in the lawsuit.

A Polk County jury in June awarded Hurkin more than $480,000 in lost wages, damages, and attorney fees. The state considered appealing but decided in January to settle the case.

"After balancing the probability of an adverse decision on appeal with the probability of success, the State of Iowa and plaintiff agreed to settle this case," wrote Jordan Esbrook, an assistant Iowa attorney general in a Jan. 22 letter informing the State Appeal Board of the settlement agreement. The board approved it Monday.

Hurkin will be paid $147,012 for past lost wages and $1,464 to settle an equal pay claim. He will get $157,357 for compensatory damages for past emotional stress. The state also will pay $142,422 to the Newkirk Law Firm, which represented Hurkin in the court case.

The entire $448,257 comes out of the state's general fund.

By settling the lawsuit, the state resolves the case, which would have only increased in cost if it had been appealed. Hurkin, who agreed for take about $50,000 less than the jury award, gets a check sooner.

He voluntarily surrendered his medical license in July 2011 after developing health issues. His wife, Carol Hurkin, said Tuesday that his health prevented him from discussing the case.

Hurkin practiced for 55 years, more than 20 at a Veterans Affairs hospital, before applying for the job at Woodward.

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