A Black Columbus police lieutenant, who received just $2 from a federal jury that agreed she was retaliated and discriminated against, is now asking for a new trial for damages, saying she's insulted by the award.
Lt. Melissa McFadden won her civil lawsuit against the city of Columbus on June 13 and was awarded $2 by a jury in U.S. District Court in Columbus. McFadden had filed the lawsuit against the city in June 2018, alleging she was discriminated against by being reassigned following an internal complaint being filed against her.
Following the verdict, one of McFadden's attorneys, John Marshall a partner at the Columbus law firm Marshall Forman & Schlein, had said McFadden felt like she won the case.
"It was more about the principle than money," Marshall told The Dispatch.
'Walking the Thin Black Line': Columbus police lieutenant publishes memoir on racism within the department
However, on Monday, McFadden's attorneys filed a motion seeking a new trial for damages, accusing the jury of engaging in the same retaliatory activity they found McFadden suffered. The motion called the jury's $2 judgment "insulting."
McFadden's motion said the jury was "perpetrating the very discrimination and retaliation the jury found the City had committed by apparently being anchored in dislike for her because she too aggressively pursued claims against what she perceived ... to be discrimination and retaliation."
Melissa McFadden's attorneys say jury was 'poisoned' by city's evidence
An uncertified transcript from the trial shows there were at most five potential jurors who were people of color in the pool of 32 considered. A federal jury can consist of anywhere from six to 12 jurors. The judge in McFadden's case, Edmund Sargus, sat eight jurors.
It was not clear in the transcript if the jurors who identified as people of color made it onto the final jury panel.
Columbus police buyout: FOP lawsuit says Columbus police kept whistleblowing officer from $200,000 buyout
The motion indicates that the attorneys representing the city provided evidence and elicited testimony in the case about McFadden's leadership style and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints filed against her.
"All this 'background evidence' did not prevent the jury from finding that Lt. McFadden had been a victim of discrimination, but it poisoned the jury's attitude toward her, making her so unlikable that a total of $2 was awarded," the motion said.
"The City got what it wanted — it so tarnished Lt. McFadden through those hours of testimony that the jury deemed her unworthy of compensation."
The motion goes on to say the jury was "so poisoned by the testimony that they were unwilling to compensate her even modestly" and that the "damages award reeks of dislike for Lt. McFadden."
McFadden is not seeking a completely new trial, according to the motion, but rather is seeking a new trial only about the damages she should receive.
"The jury disliked Lt. McFadden and insulted her with a $2 verdict," the motion said. "That was blatantly unfair."
Retaliation alleged: Columbus police Deputy Chief Jennifer Knight suspended for missing drug test
In a statement to The Dispatch on Monday, Samuel Schlein, another partner at Marshall Forman & Schlein, said McFadden is within her rights to ask for a new trial for damages.
"Lt. McFadden is entitled to take every legal step to ensure that not only was the City held accountable for its illegal actions, but that she is awarded all the damages available to her under the law," Schlein said. "The fact that she was able to prove to a federal jury that CDP acted in an illegal discriminatory and retaliatory manner is critical not only to her, but to every City employee that is treated differently based on the color of their skin or assisting others in the pursuit of equal employment opportunities."
Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein's office declined comment on the motion.
Second motion seeks expungement of Melissa McFadden's personnel file
McFadden has also filed a motion seeking additional relief measures, including the expungement of her personnel file and the barring of two deputy chiefs from participating in any decisions about McFadden's assignment within the Division of Police.
That motion, filed on June 21, also requests that "a notice of the jury verdict and all equitable relief" be placed "in a location visible" to all CPD employees.
Marshall said McFadden is expecting to be promoted to commander.
"Lt. McFadden anticipates not only standing for promotion but also persisting in seeking justice," the motion said. "Based on her past mistreatment, she also anticipates continued resentment and resistance."
McFadden's lawsuit originally stemmed from McFadden's reassignment to the division's property room in 2017 following a complaint accusing her of creating a hostile work environment and giving a sergeant a higher performance evaluation than deserved because he was Black.
McFadden said other officers who had been investigated for similar types of complaints had not been reassigned, or if they had been reassigned, they were not subjected to the physically laborious position of working in the property room. McFadden said she suffered an injury while working in the property room that required her to take extended leave.
An internal investigation into the allegations against McFadden was conducted and then-Chief Kim Jacobs had recommended McFadden be fired. The complaints against McFadden had alleged that she had fostered a "Black militancy mindset" and an "us-versus-them" attitude when it came to Black and white officers.
Ned Pettus, who was the city's public safety director at the time, decided in August 2018 that the division had not met its burden of proof and did not fire McFadden.
McFadden said in the lawsuit that the disciplinary actions against her were retaliation for her speaking out about what she saw as discrimination within the division.
In September 2020, McFadden self-published a book about what she said were her experiences of racism while being a member of the Columbus Division of Police. The book, titled "Walking the Thin Black Line," resulted in a complaint being filed against McFadden with the police division's Internal Affairs bureau.
When the book was published, McFadden said she was scared of retaliation. However, in the book's introduction, she wrote that she was "finally bulletproof" while keeping her attorney "happily busy filing lawsuits against my employer."
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Black Columbus police lieutenant: $2 jury award 'blatantly unfair'