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Published: Tuesday, 12/11/2012

Toledo offers former city employee $200,000 to drop lawsuit

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Bell administration has offered $200,000 to a former city employee in exchange for dropping an unlawful-termination lawsuit.

If approved by Toledo City Council, that settlement would bring the total amount paid out to three employees in the jointly filed case, plus the city's legal fees, to nearly $1 million.

Several councilmen were surprised to hear about the settlement, especially because the Bell administration had seemed unwilling to bargain with Gary Daugherty, a former environmental services manager hired when Mayor Carty Finkbeiner took office in 2006.

In August, a federal appeals court reversed a 2010 ruling against Mr. Daugherty, who had alleged wrongful termination three years earlier. The federal appeals court also shot down the lower court’s ruling that Mr. Finkbeiner would no longer be a defendant in the case.

The decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit paved the way for a new trial in U.S. District Court in Toledo, where a jury in 2010 sided with the city against Mr. Daugherty.

Without a settlement, the case could head back to trial, during which the former mayor would be a defendant.

Mr. Daugherty alleged racial discrimination in his lawsuit against the city and former mayor.

He was one of 23 employees who received layoff notices in March, 2007, during a budget-cutting move. Mr. Daugherty contended he was paid less than other managers and felt his layoff was because of his involvement in a case involving a black female investigated by the city’s affirmative action compliance office.

Mr. Daugherty filed jointly with two other black city employees who said they were fired illegally by the mayor. Of the three, Mr. Daugherty was the only one not offered a settlement by the Bell administration. Toledo City Council on Feb. 16, 2010, approved $300,000 for Dwayne Morehead, former co-executive director of the city’s youth commission, and $150,000 for Perlean Griffin, formerly director of the Office of Affirmative Action.

As part of her settlement, Ms. Griffin was reinstated with the city as director of administrative services, affirmative action/contract compliance. She is now paid $92,000 a year.

Officials in the Bell administration and several councilmen on Monday declined to comment on the latest settlement offer.

“As this relates to pending litigation we cannot discuss the issue at this time,” said Jen Sorgenfrei, Mayor Mike Bell’s spokesman.

But over the summer, the city’s top lawyer was undaunted by the federal appeals court reversal and a new trial. City Law Director Adam Loukx in August said the city still had a strong defense.

“The city acted properly and we don't think we are liable,” Mr. Loukx said at the time. "I still think the city has no liability in this case."

Councilmen Tom Waniewski and D. Michael Collins voted against the Morehead settlement. Mr. Waniewski, Mr. Collins, and Councilman Adam Martinez voted against the Griffin settlement.

Mr. Finkbeiner saidMonday night he is not favor of the settlement.

He read aloud to a reporter a Dec. 4 letter to him from Mr. Loukx saying: “this case is no exception as there is no reason to believe the plaintiff is entitled to anything.”

The former mayor added: “In my judgement this case should be settled in a courtroom before a judge, and when the law director wrote ‘there is ample reason to believe the plaintiff is not entitled to anything,’ it would be a total throwaway of $200,000 of taxpayer money to settle, or ask city council to settle, a matter that has already been ruled in our favor.”

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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