Posted on July 24, 2007

$2.65 Million Bias Settlement Backed

Larry Sandler, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 23, 2007

The city would pay $2.65 million to 17 current and former Milwaukee police lieutenants who successfully argued they were passed over for promotion because they were white men, under a settlement backed Monday by a Common Council committee.

If the full council agrees July 31, each of the men would be paid $103,922 to end their federal discrimination lawsuit against former Police Chief Arthur Jones and the Fire and Police Commission. Their attorney, William Rettko, would be paid $833,333, nearly one-third of the total.

The lieutenants filed suit in 2003, accusing the city’s first permanent black police chief of discriminating against them by repeatedly promoting minority and female officers ahead of them. During Jones’ tenure, about 80% of Milwaukee police lieutenants were white men, but about half the 41 people he promoted to captain were minorities or women.

In their suit, the lieutenants sought $300,000 each, or $5.1 million, in addition to unspecified punitive damages.

A federal jury ruled in their favor in 2005, finding that between them, the officers were discriminated against a total of 144 times. The jury and U.S. District Judge Thomas J. Curran awarded $3.7 million in damages. Curran later awarded attorney’s fees that brought the total to about $4.6 million, Deputy City Attorney Rudolph Konrad said in a memo to the council’s Judiciary and Legislation Committee.

In January of this year, a federal appeals court upheld the verdict but sent the damages back to the district court in Milwaukee to be recalculated. Both sides agreed to mediation, which produced Monday’s deal, said Assistant City Attorney Miriam Horwitz.

The panel discussed the issue in closed session, then returned to open session and voted unanimously for the deal without debate. Rettko could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

After Police Chief Nannette Hegerty succeeded Jones, she eventually promoted four of the plaintiffs. Three others are still lieutenants. The rest are no longer on the payroll.