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New Orleans’ first black district attorney discriminated against 43 whites when he fired them en masse and replaced them with blacks upon taking office in 2003, a federal jury decided Wednesday. The jury awarded the employees about $1.8 million in back pay and damages. The jury — made up of eight whites and two blacks — returned the unanimous verdict in the third day of deliberations in the racial discrimination case against District Attorney Eddie Jordan. Jordan acknowledged he wanted to make the office more reflective of the city’s racial makeup, but denied he fired whites just because they are white. In fact, he said, he did not know the race of the people fired. Under U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval’s instructions, jurors had to find Jordan liable if they concluded the firings were racially motivated. The law bars the mass firing of a specific group, even if the intent is to create diversity. Jordan, stoic in the courtroom as the verdict was read, told reporters he was disappointed and will appeal. “We thought the facts as well as the law favored us. I still maintain that I did not use race as a factor in my hiring practices,” he said. Jordan said the District Attorney’s Office, which is liable for the award, cannot afford to pay the verdict. It was not immediately clear whether state or city, or both, would ultimately be responsible for paying the money. Plaintiffs attorney Clement Donelon said he was elated. “The plaintiffs’ civil rights, every single, solitary one of them, were violated,” he said. “You may be able to fire people, but don’t do it because of race. That goes both ways,” the attorney said. Clemens Herbert, a former investigator who among those fired, said: “What I wanted was a win. Money was not the issue. He was trying to disguise racial discrimination through politics, and the jury saw through it.” The judge could order that the fired white workers be reinstated, but lawyers consider this unlikely. Such mandates are rare, as they require continuing court supervision. One of Louisiana’s most prominent black politicians, Jordan was U.S. attorney before getting elected district attorney. As the chief federal prosecutor in New Orleans, he won a corruption conviction against former Gov. Edwin Edwards in 2000 for taking payoffs in return for riverboat licenses. Eight days after taking office, Jordan fired 53 of 77 white non-lawyers in his office — investigators, clerks, child-support enforcement workers and the like — and replaced them with blacks. Months later, most of the whites sued him, and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission later made a preliminary finding that Jordan had been racially biased. Jordan and a top deputy who testified admitted that experience was not necessarily their top consideration in filling openings. Instead, they made it plain they were looking to populate the office with loyalists. The whites’ lawyers argued that many of those who were fired had far more experience and scored higher in job interviews than blacks who were either hired anew or kept on. The whites testified that they found themselves suddenly jobless, in late middle age, after years of working in law enforcement agencies, including the New Orleans Police Department. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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