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Published: Friday, 1/22/2010

Toledo nears settlement of suits

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Two former city of Toledo employees who claim they were fired illegally by former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner appear on the verge of getting a collective sum of $450,000 to settle their litigation in federal court.

Dwayne Morehead would get $300,000, and Perlean Griffin would get $150,000 under a proposal that the city's new mayor, Michael Bell, sent to Toledo City Council members yesterday.

Mr. Bell said he expects council to follow through with ratification, and present it to him for his signature after its Feb. 2 meeting.

The offers were made despite the city being $44 million in arrears with its general revenue fund.

Although settlement money is paid from a different account, the city's risk management fund, a spokesman for Mr. Bell said he could understand if some residents become irate.

"Clearly, it's not an ideal situation at all," Mr. Bell's spokesman, Jen Sorgenfrei, said. "This is the situation that existed when Mayor Bell took office. It needed to be dealt with. I think the administration felt this was the best outcome."

Mr. Morehead was co-executive director of the city's youth commission. Ms. Griffin had served as director of the Office of Affirmative Action.

Both filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court in 2008, along with Gary Daugherty, a former environmental services manager, alleging racial discrimination and unlawful termination for jobs they lost in 2007. All three are African American.

The trio had sought $1 million apiece in compensation.

Mr. Daugherty's case is pending.

Nobody who has had direct dealings with negotiations spoke on the record about the proposed settlements.

City Law Director Adam Loukx declined comment, as did Fritz Byers, a Toledo attorney who has represented the city and Mr. Finkbeiner in the matter.

Plaintiffs' attorney Emily Lewis of Dublin, Ohio, declined comment, as did council president Wilma Brown and Councilman Joe McNamara, a critic of Mr. Finkbeiner.

Mr. Finkbeiner himself could not be reached. Several calls were placed seeking comment from him.

Mr. Morehead and Ms. Griffin declined to be interviewed when approached by a reporter at their homes.

Ms. Lewis said during an interview in 2008 that the plaintiffs had a strong case of discrimination against the city, in large part because of some threatening statements made by Mr. Finkbeiner and evidence gleaned from an Ohio Civil Rights Commission investigation.

Although nobody would elaborate on that yesterday, a Nov. 13 document that was filed by Mr. Byers, Mr. Loukx, and others with the defense conceded Mr. Morehead was entitled to something because the city had violated the federal Family and Medical Leave Act by terminating him from his appointed position at the Board of Community Relations.

The city's violation "was the result of administrative errors that infected the city's bureaucratic process of implementing its [Family and Medical Leave Act] policy," according to the memorandum from attorneys representing the city and Mr. Finkbeiner.

Mr. Bell, after reviewing the case, figured the proposed settlements totaling $450,000 are "the best without admitting to any illegal liability or wrongdoing," Ms. Sorgenfrei said.

The legislation before council also calls for Mr. Morehead to be re-employed by the city "in a position to be determined by the administration."

Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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