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Prison Guard's Racial Demotion Nets $18,000; Court Approves $82,000 Attorney Fee Award

A federal jury found that an African-American Wisconsin prison guard was demoted on the basis of race. The parties stipulated to damages of $18,000 and the court awarded attorney's fees of $82,000.

In 1997, Mr. Davis was hired as a prison guard by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, (DOC). In 2000, Davis was promoted to sergeant, but he was demoted in 2001, when a prison social worker accused him of sexual harassment.

Davis then brought a federal racial discrimination suit. During trial, several witnesses testified that statements attributed to them in the DOC's findings had not been made. DOC charged Davis with a "Category B violation," which, under DOC rules, called for only a written reprimand for a first violation. Yet, Davis was demoted for his first violation, while white officers who had committed multiple violations were not demoted.

A jury determined that Davis was demoted on the basis of race. The parties then stipulated to $18,000 in damages, $3,000 of which was for past lost wages. The trial court also approved attorney's fees totaling $67,000.

Defendants appealed the verdict, arguing only that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's findings. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that racial discrimination can be supported entirely by circumstantial evidence. The court concluded that the verdict was not one that "cries out to be overturned." Plaintiff was awarded another $15,000 in attorney's fees for work performed on appeal. See: Davis v. Wisconsin DOC, USDC No. 04-C-258 (W D Wis 2007).

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Related legal case

Davis v. Wisconsin DOC