After more than two hours of listening to attorneys representing Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr and the two female deputies a jury determined he discriminated against in the hiring process, U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land put all the parties on the clock.
Monday’s hearing came two months after a federal jury found that Lt. Joan Wynn and Lt. Donna Tompkins were discriminated against when they were not promoted to captain in 2010. Though the jury sided with the plaintiffs, it awarded Wynn and Tompkins no back pay, no compensatory damages for emotional distress and no punitive damages.
Wynn and Tompkins were in front of Land asking for equitable relief that includes back pay, promotions and attorneys fees. At the end of the hearing, Land asked both the attorneys representing Darr and city of Columbus as well as the Atlanta attorneys representing Wynn and Tompkins if there was any interest in reaching a settlement. The judge then said his ruling would be prompt.
Land, a former Columbus city councilor, also asked when council meets again. Told it was next Tuesday, he said his ruling would be posted at 10 a.m. on Nov. 27. If there is any agreement between the two sides, it would likely have to be approved by council.
A settlement would also likely end all appeals in the more than two-year-old case.
Kirsten Stevenson, an attorney with Page, Scrantom, Sprouse, Tucker & Ford P.C. in Columbus, declined comment on the hearing. City Attorney Clifton Fay was cautious in his comments about a potential settlement.
“If we want to discuss it, he gave us time,” Fay said.
Ed Buckley, who represents Wynn and Tompkins, said an initial conversation between both sides occurred before the lawyers left the Columbus federal courthouse.
“There has been some discussion,” Buckley said.
Darr said he was not sure what to make of the hearing.
“I don’t know what to think right now,” he said. “I thought we might get a decision today.”
According to court documents, Wynn and Tompkins are asking the judge to:
Award them back pay of $23,000 to be split equally.
Promote them to captain or have their lieutenant positions reclassified at the higher rank.
If they are not immediately promoted, make them the only two candidates considered for the next two captain openings.
If they are not immediately promoted, award each front pay from the date of the jury verdict in the amount that each would have been paid had she been promoted to captain on May 1, 2010, including all intervening raises.
Revise the Sheriff’s Office captain level promotional policies to require that interview panels are comprised of disinterested panelists from outside the department and the panels be diverse based on gender.
Award $271,939.90 in attorney fees to Buckley & Klein LLP, an Atlanta firm that represented the women.
During the hearing, Land said he would not consider the back pay.
“The parities consented to having jury decide back pay,” Land said. “It was clear parties intended to be bound by what the jury decided on that particular issue.”
Land seemed clear in his point that Wynn and Tompkins had prevailed in their claims that Darr discriminated against them in the hiring process.
“The finding by the jury is Sheriff Darr was motivated by gender,” Land said. “That is against the law.”
Land also questioned both sides extensively about how to promote Wynn or Tompkins when testimony was clear that there was only one captain’s position available.
“There is the potential of one getting something that they would not have otherwise gotten,” Land said.
Buckley argued that it would be impossible to determine which of his clients would have gotten the promotion. Land seemed to agree with Stevenson when he pressed her about that and said the evidence suggested that Tompkins would have been promoted over Wynn.
Darr testified at trial that Tompkins was the second choice on his list, as did two of the command staff that interviewed candidates.