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CIVIL RIGHTS Fired for disputing audit, city official wins $4M Albuquerque, N.M. (AP)�The city of Albuquerque has been ordered to pay $3.6 million to its former convention center director after a jury ruled that her rights to free speech and association had been violated. The city will also pay attorney fees, costs and interest. A Roswell, N.M., jury awarded Marsha Hardeman $4.4 million in September 2002, ruling that her rights had been violated. A federal judge reduced the amount, but the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver last month rejected the city’s request for a more substantial reduction or a new trial. Hardeman contended that she was fired after raising questions about discrimination in audits conducted by the city in 1998. Hardeman, who is black, said that the audits had the appearance of being aimed at black groups. Cracker Barrel settles race bias claims Nashville, Tenn. (AP)�The Cracker Barrel restaurant chain has agreed to an $8.7 million settlement to resolve all lawsuits brought or supported by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that accused it of segregating blacks in the smoking section and denying them service. “This matter has been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction and the parties are now ready to move forward,” Donald Turner, the chain’s president and chief operating officer, said last week. David Sanford, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the settlement “represents good closure to a bad period.” Details of the settlement were not released, but Cracker Barrel’s parent, CBRL Group Inc., said it would take a $3.3 million charge against its fourth-quarter earnings for costs associated with the settlement. The company had previously accrued $3.5 million before taxes in fiscal 2001 related to some of the cases. At least 42 plaintiffs, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, accused the Lebanon, Tenn.-based company of discrimination in federal lawsuits filed in Georgia. Black customers in 16 states also said they were subjected to racial slurs and served food taken from the trash. INTENTIONAL TORTS Failure to control trooper will cost police $5M Philadelphia (AP)�The Pennsylvania state police have agreed to pay $5 million to settle allegations that commanders failed to rein in a trooper who was sexually assaulting women. The settlement announced on Sept. 2 covers civil lawsuits filed in federal court by four women, including one who was 14 years old in the late 1990s when she was assaulted by former trooper Michael Evans. Evans pleaded guilty in 2000 to corruption of minors, indecent assault, solicitation to promote prostitution, official oppression and indecent exposure. He is serving a five- to 10-year prison sentence. Evans met all of the victims while on duty, although the lawsuits do not make clear whether all of the incidents occurred while he was on duty. The women claimed that several of Evans’ supervisors knew he had a history of unsavory conduct, but never punished him. The deal was announced in a joint statement by State Police Commissioner Jeffrey B. Miller and three attorneys for the women, who will split the money. The suits prompted a broad review of the way the agency handles allegations of trooper misconduct. PRICE-FIXING Fruit processors settle growers’ class action Bangor, Maine (AP)�A Maine fruit processor has agreed to pay $1 million to Maine growers of wild blueberries as a settlement in a class action that caused financial uncertainty in the industry last winter. The processor, Allen’s Blueberry Freezer of Ellsworth, Maine, had been found guilty by a civil jury in November 2003 of underpaying growers during the 1996 to 1999 seasons after colluding on prices, as were Cherryfield Foods Inc. of Cherryfield, Maine, and Jasper Wyman & Son of Milbridge, Maine. A fourth defendant, Merrill’s Blueberry Farms of Ellsworth, the smallest of the four, settled with the growers for $85,000 last October, days before the case went to a jury trial. Cherryfield Foods and Wyman’s reached post-verdict settlements through a mediator in February. Allen’s had been the lone holdout all along, challenging even the settlements reached by Cherryfield Foods and Wyman’s. The terms of the settlement involve an upfront payment of $500,000 and payments amounting to $500,000 over three years. As recently as July 1, Allen’s filed with the Maine Supreme Court an appeal of the judge’s approval of the $4 million settlement that Maine’s estimated 500 growers will share. Allen’s was preparing to argue against both the approved settlement and the original guilty verdict. WRONGFUL DEATH State told to pay $8.5M for fatal highway crash Buffalo, N.Y. (AP)-A court of claims judge has ordered the state to pay $8.5 million to the surviving children of a couple killed in 1995 when their car went out of control on a section of the New York State Thruway outside Buffalo where water had built up. Driver Paul LaMendola, 39, his 35-year-old wife Deborah, their 10-year-old son Nicholas and 9-year-old daughter Chelsea all died when their Lincoln hit a parked dump truck in 1995. Judge Renee Forgensi Minarik recently issued the $8.5 million order two years after a trial in Buffalo. Attorneys for the three surviving children, including two who were hurt in the crash and are now teenagers living with relatives in the Buffalo area, plan to appeal and seek a higher award. In 2000, Justice John Lane of state Supreme Court, New York’s trial-level court, ruled that the state was 100% liable for the crash. He found the Thruway Authority failed to inspect and maintain properly that section of the road, and that it was poor maintenance that caused LaMendola to lose control of the car.

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