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Metro Louisville has agreed to pay $1 million to a former Health Department employee who said she was retaliated against for filing a racial discrimination complaint.
A jury in 2018 awarded MarySusan Ward $880,000, but the city appealed, and the Kentucky Court of Appeals ordered a new trial.
Ward’s attorney, Robyn Smith, said she believes the settlement is the largest ever in a retaliation case and noted the settlement exceeds the verdict, which she said is uncommon.
“This is a big day for Louisville Metro citizens of color,” Smith said in an interview. “It means we are coming a long way.“
She added: "They haven’t apologized to her and never will, but I consider this a reparation.”
In a statement, Ward, who was a $30,000-a-year administrative assistant, said: “I have seen racism in this community my whole life. It took a lot to stand up to the city government and my employer when I believed they were discriminating against me. At that point, it was about fair pay. But when they retaliated against me and attacked my character … it stopped being about the money.
“This settlement is about holding Louisville Metro Government accountable with hopes of preventing this type of behavior from happening to people of color in the future.”
Under the terms of the accord, which was disclosed last week, Metro will pay $575,000 to Ward and the balance to her lawyers.
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By a 9-3 vote, the jury found Ward wasn’t the victim of discrimination, but in a unanimous verdict, it said she was retaliated against for filing her complaint.
Smith said the department retaliated against her by firing her and refusing to let pursue a grievance.
The settlement says the city denies wrongdoing and will not have to reinstate her.
The Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Olu Stevens ruling denying the city a directed verdict at trial. But it said he imposed the wrong remedy when he found the city’s lawyers dismissed a Black juror on account of race.
The appeals court agreed with Stevens the juror was improperly removed because of race but said the judge overstepped when he ordered the juror could not be struck as an alternate at the end of the trial, when the jury is pared to 12 people, Smith said.
The plaintiff, who is Black, had complained to Metro Human Resources that a white employee in the department who was still on probation had received a 20 percent raise, while Ward's most recent raise two years earlier was a nominal 70 cents per hour.
Ward, who started in 2007, said there was proof white employees regularly received annual raises of 20% to 40% while Black employees collected only cost-of-living raises.
"In a case about race discrimination, 'Compassion City' time and time again played to tired stereotypes and defended bias instead of acknowledging it," Soha Saiyed said in August 2018.
She accused the city of also targeting two of the three Black members in the jury pool, which the Jefferson County Attorney’s office denied.
Josh Abner, a spokesman for the county attorney’s office, said jurors weren't stuck for reasons of race.
The jury awarded Ward $30,000 for lost wages and $850,000 for emotional distress caused by the retaliation.
In her statement, which Smith issued on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Ward quoted King, who once said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”
Andrew Wolfson: 502-582-7189; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @adwolfson.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville pays $1M for retaliating against worker in race-bias case