by Max Brantley
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has set aside the ruling of a district judge who drastically reduced a race discrimination verdict in favor of a white woman who said she was fired from a financial job in the Lee County School District on account of race. She was one of only two white administrators in the district, along with the superintendent. Tension developed between her and a School Board member and the two whites were reassigned to lesser jobs after blacks claimed a majority of the School Board seats in 2007.
The plaintiff, Sharon Sanders, was made a food service assistant, a job that lacked defined duties. She ultimately resigned, but sued arguing that her treatment amounted to constructive discharge. The school district said she'd been insubordinate.
A jury had awarded $10,000 in compensatory damages, $8,000 in punitive damages and $65,000 in lost wages to Sanders. But the district judge set aside all but the $10,000 and also reduced her attorney's fee award from about $46,000 to $3,333. The 8th Circuit reversed that decision and remanded it for further hearings consistent with its finding that Sanders had presented sufficient evidence to show she was forced to quit and to support the punitive damage award. Her success on those arguments require reconsideration of the attorney fees as well, the court said.