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College Park ordered to pay $156K+ in reverse-bias case
A federal jury ruled today that race played a role in 2004 when a black majority of the College Park City Council fired a white department head.
The jury awarded Christopher Jones, the city’s former director of economic development, $156,000 in damages plus attorney’s fees, which could be in the neighborhood of $400,000. (U.S. District Court Judge Jack Camp has yet to rule whether Jones should be reinstated or receive back pay.) The award includes $75,000 in punitive damages to be paid by Councilman Charles E. Phillips Sr. (left) and $75,000 by Councilman Tracey Wyatt (right); the jury ruled that former council member Cynthia Jones, who also voted to fire Jones, was not liable for racial discrimination.
The award is well below the $740,000 settlement proposed last year by the city’s insurer, which the council rejected. But the city’s own legal fees could add up to $1 million or more.
The three council members voted to fire Jones in April 2004 as his employment contract was up for its annual review. City manager J. Scott Miller had recommended renewal and a raise, after giving him a glowing performance evaluation.
Council members said insubordination and disrespect, not race, cost Jones his job. They said he had spoken rudely to them and members of the public.
But Jones, who now holds a similar position in Alpharetta, alleged he was fired so the council could replace him with an African-American department head.
Jurors heard testimony that Phillips referred to Jones as “the white boy” and that he told him, after a confrontation during a council meeting, that he didn’t want his constituents to think a white development director was running City Hall. The city’s finance director testified Wyatt told her when he took office that he had a “black agenda.” Both council members boasted they had hired an African-American to replace Jones, a city business leader testified.
Both men denied making the racially charged statements.