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Some questions still unanswered in DOT lawsuit

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com· (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — It may be a year or longer before some people who sued the Alabama Department of Transportation know if they have money coming from a 21-year-old hiring discrimination lawsuit.

Attorneys for the state and for the plaintiffs will meet with a federal court officer Jan. 30 to look at settlement options, but no one expects the case to end that day.

Attorneys for the state and people who sued the state do not yet agree on how to resolve the issues.

“It may take a year or longer. We hope not,” said Dan Morris, assistant director of DOT and a principal negotiator for the department in the case.

Meeting with judge

Morris said attorneys for both sides will meet with a special master appointed by federal District Court Judge Myron Thompson and look at remaining questions.

Robert Wiggins and Russell Adams, attorneys for groups that sued DOT, agree that there is still work remaining.

Unresolved issues include the claims of about 950 current or former DOT employees who either did not receive or else had delays in promotions they believe were appropriate as a result of the ongoing case.

Rusty Adams, an attorney for some people suing the state, told The Daily that the cases were a spinoff of the original Reynolds suit.

Adams, an attorney with the Birmingham law firm of Wiggins, Childs, Quinn and Pantaziz, said sometimes his clients confuse the remaining cases with the original case and think they have more money coming from the original suit. Black plaintiffs already settled and received more than $41 million from the state.

Adams said the current cases cover only a short period of time since late 2002.

Freezing employment

Because of the lengthy negotiations in the case, the court froze DOT employment and promotions for several years as the state worked to develop race-neutral job descriptions and employment and promotion tests and interview questions. Adams said two to five years is when the alleged remaining violations occurred.

Also in question is what to do about $13.9 million in contempt of court fines DOT paid because it did not meet terms of a consent decree that was to end the case. Thompson determined that parts of the consent decree were impossible for the state to meet and refunded about $4 million in fines.

Other remaining questions include what to do about thousands of people who say they did not apply or were not hired for jobs with DOT because they thought they would not get a job there.

There are other issues as well, including those about attorney fees and costs the state incurred while trying to meet terms of the consent decree.

Johnny Reynolds, who filed the original suit in May 1985, was a DOT employee who believed he did not receive promotions and pay increases because he was black. He died late in 2004 after a series of heart attacks that he attributed to the stress of the case.

Expensive case

Gov. Bob Riley made an issue of the Reynolds case and the $65,000 per week in contempt of court fines the state then paid in his first campaign for governor. He pushed for an early end to the case with its expenses that had passed $250 million more than a year ago.

Transportation Director Joe McInnes, whom Riley appointed, gives perspective to the costs involved.

The state could repave every interstate highway in Alabama and Interstate 20 twice with the money it spent on Reynolds in its first 20 years.

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