A federal jury awarded $2.4 million to nine current and former Tempe employees after finding they had suffered decades of ethnic slurs, unfair treatment and retaliation.
Jurors said they wanted to award the plaintiffs — all were associated with the city’s Public Works Department — a fair amount without bankrupting the city.
The jurors also said they believed Tempe has made significant strides in improving the workplace for minorities. "If they had done that before, we wouldn’t be here today," said juror Michele Biondolino of Phoenix.
The verdict capped off a sixyear saga of investigations, housecleaning of top management and the implementation of new policies and a diversity office.
"To me, it wasn’t about the money," said Raul Trevino, who walked away with a $175,000 judgment. "I wanted them to be accountable for what they did."
The nine men were restrained in their enthusiasm after the verdict in U.S. District Court, quietly exchanging handshakes and hugs with each other and their attorney Stephen Montoya.
"All we wanted was an apology," said retired worker Danny Dominguez, recipient of a $260,000 judgment. "We didn’t ever get that."
Now it is time for the City Council to apologize "to each of these nine men directly," Montoya said.
Mayor Hugh Hallman said he would have to look to the City Council to see what is appropriate as far as official apologies.
"As a resident of the city, I am truly sorry that any of our employees faced the kinds of issues these employees faced," Hallman said.
The plaintiffs’ original complaint carried allegations that the city passed over Hispanic workers for promotions, coworkers and supervisors used racial slurs and derogatory names, and that Hispanics were assigned less desirable jobs and were subjected to harsher treatment than white workers.
Jurors deliberated for four days and came up with awards ranging from $175,000 to $475,000, depending on circumstances such as job tenure, the abuse the workers were subjected to and loss of livelihood, Biondolino said.
Judge Roslyn Silver allowed the jury to read a statement in court that said even though the panel found in favor of the plaintiffs, it acknowledged the efforts of the city to improve its workplace conditions.
"They seem to be taking grievances much more seriously," Biondolino said. "If they had done that before, we wouldn’t be here today."
Jury forewoman Sharon Blatnik of Surprise said the jury wanted to award the men sufficiently without crippling the city.
The city has to pay $1 million and an insurance company will pick up the rest, according to City Manager Will Manley.
The city set aside $500,000 in a legal liability fund especially for this case and the other $500,000 will be paid out of a $6 million budget surplus from the 2004-05 fiscal year, which ended Thursday, Manley said.
Montoya said he is going to ask Silver to order the city to pay his attorney fees so his clients don’t have to.
The attorney said he would take one-third of the judgement from his clients if Silver denies his request.
Some of the men said the awards were not enough.
Randy Bologna, who retired 2 1 /2 years ago after 30 years on the job, said that even though he got the largest award, he endured the mistreatment since 1973 and was underpaid for 14 years.
Bologna, 59, said he made it to supervisor before being demoted and assigned to picking up trash in alleys, where the work conditions included hard labor, lots of dust and bad smells.
"I just wish I could have stayed until I was 66. I didn’t want to retire," he said.
The settlement Pedro Amaya: $250,000 Randy Bologna: $475,000 Jose Corrales: $210,000 Daniel Dominguez: $260,000 Edward Fernandez: $250,000 Reuben Figueroa: $280,000 Armando Gonzalez: $175,000 Manuel Navarro: $350,000 Raul Trevino: $175,000 Total: $2,425,000