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Settle Up: Alderman To Decide on $85k Settlement for Discrimination Case
Aldermen will discuss settling a five-year-old discrimination case against the city on Tuesday's committee of the whole meeting.
Robert Horton filed a complaint with the Department of Human Rights in July 2008, alleging he was fired based on race. There has been a decision against the city, an appeal, a denial for summary judgement and a trial set. Now his lawyers and the city are ready to settle for $85,100.
"There's probably a legal file two, three inches thick," said Ward 7 Alderman Joe McMenamin, who is also a lawyer.
But aldermen aren't getting a legal file "two or three inches thick" when they discuss whether to settle Horton's case. The city council packet contains just eight pages on the case, much of it boilerplate settlement legalese.
So how will the aldermen decide what the right course of action is?
The aldermen can request more information during the meeting, but there's one source that's arguably the most important.
"We really have to rely upon the good advice, counsel and judgement of our interim (Corporation Counsel), John Mehlick," Ward 7 Alderman Joe McMenamin said. "And then he relies on his staff attorneys."
That's $85,100 in taxpayer dollars on faith. While aldermen might get further explanation, the only reasoning in public documents is "it's in the best interest of the city to approve settlement of this case," which means the public will need to rely on the aldermen.
"It's the old 'trust me,'" said Ward 1 Alderman Frank Edwards. "Sometimes that's a scary thought when you look at the city council and you go 'OK, we're dealing with the public's money and we're asking them to trust 'em because we really can't give you much information.' That's when things go awry."
These are the facts that are known.
Horton was a truck driver for the Office of Public Works in 2008 when he was fired for supposedly not following orders. Horton alleges he lost his job because he is black. He says the man who replaced him in his job is not black. He also claims another non-black driver did the same kinds of things he was fired for and wasn't let go.
The Department of Human Rights ruled against the city, and the city appealed the ruling. The Human Rights Commission refused to give the city a summary judgement, though, so the next step would have been a trial in front of the commission.
By settling, neither party admits liability and Horton cannot pursue the city again.
Aldermen will discuss the settlement on Tuesday but will not vote on it until the next city council meeting on Octpber 1 at the earliest.