Discrimination suit cost Highway Department more than $600,000 | Arkansas Blog

Discrimination suit cost Highway Department more than $600,000

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The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department paid more than $600,000 to defend and then settle a race discrimination lawsuit filed by Darren Smith, a black former highway police officer.

Smith  filed the lawsuit in May 2013. It accused the highway police and its chief, Ron Burks, of favoring whites in promotion and disproportionately punishing blacks. Smith was fired in July 2012. A notice was filed in federal court recently that the suit had been settled, but parties wouldn't discuss the terms.

Citing the Freedom of Information Act, the Arkansas Times requested information on the settlement and information on the amount of money paid by the highway department's private attorney to defend the department. (There had been some controversy over the Highway Department's use of outside counsel, despite having staff lawyers, in part because of Secretary of State Mark Martin's use of private counsel rather than the attorney general's office.)

Here's the bottom line, according to documents obtained by the Times:

Smith will be treated as having resigned Aug. 15, 2012. The department will pay $371,500 as full settlement of the lawsuit — $22,000 in back pay to Smith; $178,178.29 to Smith for non-wage damages; a $43,000 contribution to Smith's retirement account; $99,821.71 for costs and attorney fees to Daily and Woods PLLC; and a second check of $28,500 to Daily and Woods for costs and fees.

The department will provide a neutral reference letter for Smith and purge his personnel file of documents about discipline. Smith releases the department from further claims.

Randy Ort, assistant chief for administration at the department, said the law firm of Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon and Galchus was paid $231,376.32 to represent the department in the case since July 2012.

That puts the total tab in attorney fees and settlement payments at almost $605,000.

Ort said: "All parties have agreed to and signed the settlement agreement. The Department is satisfied with the process that was followed and considers the matter resolved and will have no further comment on this case."

Here's the full agreement.

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