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Within minutes of adjourning to deliberate a verdict in a race discrimination case against the Atlanta-Fulton County, Ga., Public Library, jurors asked for two things — a chalkboard and a calculator. After deliberating for two days, the jury returned on Wednesday with a $25 million verdict for eight white female librarians who had sued members of the library board and the director. The librarians had claimed they were demoted and transferred from the central library downtown to outlying branches because they were white. Fulton County Attorney Overtis Hicks “O.V.” Brantley on Wednesday afternoon called the jury verdict “clearly excessive.” “The verdict bears no relationship to the evidence or to the damages actually suffered by these people,” she says. Brantley says the county will ask the judge to set aside the verdict. “If we are unsuccessful with that motion, we plan to appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.” The jury assessed compensatory and punitive damages against library director Mary K. Hooker; library board Chairman William McClure; board Vice Chairwoman Mary Jamerson Ward; and Benjamin Jenkins, chairman of the board’s personnel committee, says the plaintiffs’ lawyer, former Georgia Attorney General Michael J. Bowers. The jurors — seven whites and one Asian-American — found no damages against the library system, determining that it was neither the system’s policy nor custom to discriminate against its white employees, Bowers says. Even though the library system was absolved of any liability, Brantley says, “The county’s plan of defense covers both the boards of the county itself as well as individual officers and employees.” The county also generally covers county officers and board members for punitive as well as general damages “if the incident arose out of their duties.” U.S. District Judge Beverly B. Martin of the Northern District of Georgia still must decide whether the librarians, one of whom is Bowers’ cousin, will be reinstated in their prior posts. And she will determine whether the defendants also must pay the librarians’ legal fees, which Bowers says are an estimated $300,000 to $350,000. The librarians, he says, are “relieved and glad it’s over. They are elated, of course. More than anything else, they are relieved. They have been under enormous strain for two years. They are just good human beings.” ‘WHAT’S A RIGHT WORTH?’ Bowers didn’t ask the jury for a specific amount of damages. Instead, he asked them in his closing argument Monday, “What is a constitutional right worth?” Answering his own question, Bowers told the jury he wouldn’t sell his constitutional right to equal treatment under the law for $1 million. Bowers also made $400,000 a reference point for jurors, noting that this was the combined annual salary of the plaintiffs. The library director had testified there was no cost associated with the plaintiffs’ transfers. Therefore, “$400,000 is nothing to them,” Bowers said, “Zippo, no cost at all.” The librarians sued the library system in 2000, claiming that in pursuing a goal of “racial equity,” the library director — at the direction of the board — transferred them and demoted them from their supervisory positions. Bogle v. McClure, No. 1:00-cv-2071 (N.D. Ga. Jan. 7, 2002). Racial equity, according to court pleadings, was a euphemism for bringing more diversity to what the board thought was a central library management staff dominated by older, white women. Nine whites were demoted or transferred to branches, along with two blacks who Bowers said criticized the reorganization. They were replaced with 17 blacks. The white librarians’ claims were bolstered by a paper trail of memos and board meeting minutes where racial equity was discussed. But the paper trail contrasted sharply with the testimony of black library board members, all of whom denied the allegations and said they were insulted to be accused of discrimination. ‘OBSESSION ABOUT RACE’ Bowers told the jury in his closing argument that black members of the county’s library board — among them Fulton County Commissioner Emma I. Darnell, Ward and McClure — “have an obsession about race.” Bowers said they engaged in a “cover-up” that included lying to the jury about their reasons for seeking the transfers and withholding, until the beginning of the trial, board minutes and staff memos that documented the library’s effort to achieve racial equity. Those documents included a board-commissioned study, called “The Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library System Branch & Unit Management by Race,” which broke down the library’s staff by race. Another memo noted that Deputy Fulton County Attorney June D. Green had warned the library board to be careful that any transfers did not violate the county’s established personnel policies. After the librarians filed their suit, however, Green was called upon to defend the county. She told the jury the transfers were a personnel matter and had nothing to do with race discrimination. The librarians simply didn’t like their new work assignments, she said, and as a result manufactured “every imaginable grievance.” “I don’t like this going to trial, staying up all night reading law, interviewing witnesses, preparing clients,” Green told the jury. “And my feet hurt. I’m too old for this.” But her job, even though she is a supervisor, entails “going where the need is,” just as the librarians are required to do. “This is not a grievance committee hearing” for librarians who complain because they have lost their “dream job” or have to drive too far too work,” she told jurors. “We don’t wish to minimize the depth of the pain these ladies face, but these are grievances. ” Your job is not to resolve grievances,” Green told the jurors. DEMOTION ‘ONLY IN THEIR MINDS’ The librarians’ complaints that they were demoted “exist only in their minds,” she continued. “They had the opportunity to turn their assignments into something meaningful. They didn’t want to.” Green said that the entire staff, black and white, was “hurt, disappointed, confused, even kissed off” during the reorganization. But, unlike the librarians who sued, the black staff members who also were transferred “adjusted to their assignments. As a librarian in the Atlanta-Fulton County system, you have to go where the library sends you.” “Not one of these ladies was reassigned because of race,” she told the jury. “They needed to go out to the branches where their services as professional librarians were needed.” She accused the white librarians of engaging in “race-baiting frivolity.” The plaintiffs subsequently built a case “around two or three comments and one document, I’ll call it a race document,” she said, referring to the study that broke down the staff by race. Green acknowledged in her closing that library board Vice Chairman Ward began an investigation of racial diversity after she received complaints from her constituents “that they couldn’t get jobs” at the central library. But she insisted Ward was only concerned about fairness for all employees. Before the county’s reorganization of the library staff, personnel decisions were based on what Green called a “good-old-girl system. It was a system based on the selection of people based on who their friends were.”

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