The case is Barella v. Village of Freeport, the facts of which are described in district court rulings on November 8, 2013 [2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 160268] and April 26, 2014 [2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58827]. The judgment was based on a jury trial and is reported here.
Christopher Barella, a white lieutenant, alleged that the then newly elected Mayor of Freeport (Hardwick) engaged in a pattern of reverse discrimination by hiring and promoting blacks and Hispanics and demoting and terminating whites in the Freeport police department. Barella filed the lawsuit after he made the highest score on a police chief exam and was never even interviewed for the position. The position was offered instead to a Hispanic lieutenant (Bermudez) with a questionable past. Barella alleged that Bermudez was a long-time friend of the mayor who engaged in bigoted acts against gays and immigrants on Facebook. Barrlla also alleged that Bermudez showed videos of an actor portraying Adolf Hitler and referred to a list of officers not offered overtime as “Schindler’s List.” On top of all that, Barella presented evidence that during Hardwick’s tenure as mayor, blacks and Hispanics constituted 96 percent of seasonal hires, 96 percent of those subsequently rehired, and that more than 90 percent of the department heads who retired, resigned or were not reappointed were white.
Barella sued under Title VII and Section 1983. The 1983 component was critical because it included charges against Hardwick in his personal capacity, which is not permitted in Title VII. The only thing the jury did not grant was compensatory damages for pain and suffering. In the end, the award consisted of $150,000 in back pay, a million dollars in front pay, and $200,000 in punitive damages from Hardwick in his personal capacity.
By Art Gutman, Ph.D., Professor, Florida Institute of Technology