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Assisted by former U.S. Attorney General Griffin B. Bell, Fulton County, Ga., has appealed a $16.6 million verdict awarded in January to seven county librarians who claimed they were discriminated against because they are white. In a brief filed with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Fulton County Attorney Overtis Hicks “O.V.” Brantley and her appellate legal team claim that three defendants — members of the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library Board and the system’s executive director — should be immune from liability. The brief says that jury awards to the librarians for emotional distress and punitive damages should have been greatly reduced by the judge, Beverly B. Martin of the Northern District of Georgia. Bogle v. McClure, No. 02-13213-H (11th Cir. Sept. 4, 2002). Brantley has said that Bell entered the case as a “personal favor.” Bell, she added, “was very interested in taking the case.” Atlanta-based Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore has joined the librarians’ legal defense team for the appeal. The librarians, represented by Meadows, Ichter & Bowers lawyers Kelly Jean Beard in Atlanta and former Georgia Attorney General Michael J. Bowers, had sued the library system and the board. The librarians were transferred from management positions downtown to outlying branches and stripped of supervisory responsibilities, they said, because of their race. The transfers, the librarians contended, were de facto demotions, even though their job classifications and salaries remained the same. After a two-week trial, the jury returned a verdict of $23.4 million in compensatory and punitive damages against library board chairman William McClure, board members Benjamin Jenkins and Mary Jamerson Ward, and Executive Director Mary K. Hooker. Each plaintiff won $1 million for emotional distress and $2 million in punitive damages. Martin later reduced the judgment to $16.8 million. Bogle v. McClure, No. 1:00-cv-2071 (N.D. Ga. May 10, 2002). In the new brief, county attorneys King & Spalding senior partner Bell and King & Spalding associate Lovita T. Tandy argue that the defendants are immune from liability as government employees who not only acted within the law, but who did not realize that the librarians’ “lateral transfers with no loss of pay and no change in job classification would rise to the level of an ‘adverse employment action.’” In addition, they claim that Martin erred in permitting the jury to review county documents that were protected by attorney-client privilege. Those documents included memos written by Deputy County Attorney June D. Green and Hooker discussing whether the transfers would violate the county’s anti-discrimination policies. Martin determined that the documents were a matter of public record under the Georgia Open Records Act. Defense attorneys now are asking the appellate court to dismiss the judgment and remand it with instructions to dismiss the case entirely or retry it. As an alternative, the attorneys suggest in their brief that the appellate court reduce compensatory damages to no more than $100,000 for each plaintiff and either eliminate the punitive damages award or reduce it to no more than $200,000 for each plaintiff.

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