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Texas: $232,000 Settlement, $82,000 Award in Prison Employees' Discrimination Suits

In 2003 and 2004, plaintiffs in two separate lawsuits prevailed on their claims of racial discrimination against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

In the most recent lawsuit, four auditors in the Community Justice Assistance Division of TDCJ sued their employer in state court alleging they were unfairly passed over for promotions between 1995 and 1998 because of their race. Some of the plaintiffs were denied promotions several times. Three of the plaintiffs are black, one is Hispanic.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs contended that TDCJ's promotion practices were biased against minorities. Within the division, disproportionately few Hispanics and virtually no blacks had been promoted to management positions from 1995 to 1998, they argued. The plaintiffs' statistical expert, John Michael, Ph.D., of Dallas, Texas, stated that, other factors being equal, TDCJ was more likely to promote whites than blacks or Hispanics. Plaintiffs sought damages for past and future lost wages and mental anguish.

On November 11, 2004, after filing at least 15 dispositive motions and losing two interlocutory appeals, TDCJ agreed to settle the lawsuit for $232,000. A break down of the settlement was not provided. Plaintiffs were represented by Leslie McCollom, Justin B. Demerath, and Kevin T. O'Hanlon, all with the Austin, Texas, law firm O'Hanlon & Associates. See: Cooke v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Travis County District Court, 53rd, Case No. 99-00445.

In the other lawsuit plaintiff Javier Perez, a former lieutenant at TDCJ's Connally Unit, sued the department in federal district court under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He also alleged racial discrimination. Perez, an 8-year veteran of TDCJ, was fired in May 1997 after he was charged with aggravated assault in connection with the 1996 stabbing of an ex-prisoner in a Victoria, Texas, bar. Although the charge was dropped five days later, the department refused to reinstate Perez.

Perez, who is Hispanic, contended that he was treated differently than three white TDCJ guards who had been charged with similar or worse crimes. According to Perez's attorney, Bobby D. Brown, one of the white guards, a sergeant, was promoted to lieutenant while under felony indictment for intoxication manslaughter. Then, when the charge was pleaded down to driving while intoxicated, the guard was given time off to serve three days in jail, said Brown.

The other two white guards, said Brown, were indicted on charges of felony aggravated assault stemming from the beating of a man in Victoria. As with the sergeant, these charges were also pled down to misdemeanors. Still, neither guard lost his job, and one was even promoted to sergeant while the felony indictment was still pending, said Brown.

On April 23, 2003, after a three day trial, a jury awarded Perez a total of $82,800 ($47,800 for back pay and $35,000 for the cost of being retrained as a welder and replacing his health insurance). Perez was represented by Bobby Brown and John Griffin of the Houston, Texas, law firm Marek & Griffin. See: Perez v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice, USDC WD TX, Case No. 00-CV-34.

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