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by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

For the second time in less than two years, a case of reverse racial discrimination against the City of Kansas City has been filed in Platte County Circuit Court.

In 2008, a Platte County jury awarded $2.1 million in damages to Melissa Howard, a 46-year-old assistant prosecutor in Clay and Jackson Counties who had gone to court with a claim of racial discrimination when she was denied a spot as a municipal court judge with Kansas City.

Video cameras in a council meeting caught former Mayor Kay Barnes describing the racial makeup of applicants for the judgeship. Barnes indicated she was “dissatisfied” that the finalists did not include a minority.

This latest case, filed Monday by attorney Mark Jess with the Employee Rights Law Firm of Kansas City, features two budget analysts dismissed from the city of Kansas City suing the city and City Manager Wayne Cauthen. The suit also lists Troy Schulte, the city’s budget officer, as a defendant.

“Under Wayne Cauthen, the city has adopted a ‘whites need not apply’ policy,” Jess told The Landmark in a phone interview Tuesday.

“We want people to know it’s illegal and wrong,” added Jess, who represented Howard in the case from 2008. That case is currently in front of the court of appeals and in the meantime Howard is earning interest at 7% on the original $2.1 million award. Jess said that total is now at $2.44 million.

Monday’s lawsuit alleges plaintiffs Jordan Griffin and Colleen Low--who are both white and were veteran employees of the city--were victims of race and age discrimination and retaliation when they were let go as younger, less-qualified minority candidates were retained.

The suit says that Griffin and Low were fired this month even though they had just received the highest possible evaluation scores and there were still vacant positions for which they were eligible.

Their filing takes issue with the alleged promotion of minorities by Cauthen, whose evaluation at the time was based in part on his commitment to workplace diversity.

Asked why he chose Platte County as the location to file the suit, Jess replied:

“We had the previous case there and we found that Platte County jurors understood what was happening, in our minds, in the city of Kansas City. The jurors in Platte County are fair and they understand what is going on,” Jess told The Landmark.

Jess explained that state law allows such a filing against a city “in any county in which the city can be found.” A portion of Kansas City’s city limits is located in Platte County.

He said a panel of 12 jurors will eventually decide this case and make a determination as to whether damages are warranted. Any award is left completely up to the the jury, and could factor in things such as hard economic damages to the plaintiffs, emotional distress and punitive damages.

Through a spokesperson, city officials have said they won’t comment on what is considered to be a personnel matter.

Griffin, 61, began working for the city in 2001. The suit says she was passed over for a position as commissioner of revenue. She had served as acting commissioner for two years and “received the highest performance rating possible,” but wasn’t granted an interview, the suit alleges. Two other qualified white applicants were also denied interviews, the suit claims.

The city instead gave the job to an African-American who had handled liquor control duties and had no experience in the revenue department.

That move came while city manager Cauthen’s contract called for him to receive extra pay if the city retained or increased the number of women and minority employees, according to the suit.

Griffin and two others later filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over the situation. In May 2008 the city settled the complaint with the three for $30,000.

Low, the second plaintiff in the suit filed Monday in Platte County, said she was suspended without pay and then laid off when she openly spoke up in support of Griffin in a dispute over a box of missing IRS tapes from the revenue division.

The tapes have never been found, but no evidence was produced to implicate Griffin, according to her attorneys in a grand jury investigation.

Jess said typically a case like the one filed Monday moves in front of a jury within a year or a year and a half after filing.



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