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A federal jury has awarded nearly $3 million in a “reverse discrimination” suit against the Philadelphia School District brought by four white males who claim they were fired by an African-American woman who had complained there were “too many white male managers in this department.” In the trial, lead plaintiffs’ attorney Michael D. Homans of Flaster Greenberg in Cherry Hill, N.J., set out to prove that his clients were fired only because they were white several months after Kimberly Sangster, an African-American woman, was hired as the district’s chief procurement officer. Homans said that during Sangster’s first day on the job in November 2002, she asked plaintiff Robert Johnston if he was “going to have a hard time working for a black woman.” Within her first month, Homans said, Sangster complained that there were too many white male managers in the department, and later told Johnston that “Caucasian managers’ offices are too big. I’m going to do something about it.” Ultimately, Homans said, Sangster fired Johnston and three other white men — Jack Zubris, Edward Pilosi and Peter Bracchi — and claimed that it was part of a cost-cutting reorganization of the department. But Homans told the jury that Sangster’s explanations for the terminations were false, and that the evidence showed that she had not eliminated a “layer” of management, as she claimed. Instead, Homans said, the evidence showed that Sangster grew the department from 25 employees to 30, and that the first seven employees she hired were African-American. Homans also told the jury to reject Sangster’s claim that she was trying to hire workers with an “elite skill set” because the evidence showed that the new workers had significantly less experience in procurement work, and that some had never worked for a school district. In its verdict on Friday, the jury found that race was the motivating factor in the terminations of all four men, and that three of the men also suffered retaliation when the school district refused to consider them for other jobs because they had already started the process of pursuing a race discrimination suit. The jury awarded each man $500,000 in emotional damages and awards of back pay ranging from $71,000 to $302,000. Homans said U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III will also order that three of the men be reinstated to their jobs. But because plaintiff Bracchi has moved to Florida to take a new job, reinstatement was not an option, Homans said. As a result, his award also included $243,000 in “front pay” in lieu of reinstatement. The total verdict was $2,960,378, Homans said, and the cost to the school district will also include an attorney fee award to the plaintiffs that could top $500,000. Homans was assisted at trial by Flaster Greenberg attorney Lizanne V. Hoerst. The school district was represented by attorneys Carl E. Singley, Richard S. Meyer, Heather A. Steinmiller and Michael J. Hanlon of Blank Rome. The central dispute in the trial was whether Sangster’s decision to lay off the four white men was motivated, as she said, by the school district’s desire to reduce its budget by 10 percent, or, as the plaintiffs claimed, by race. Homans told the jury that Sangster had retained the only African-American who was a senior manager in the department, but had laid off the four white managers. As evidence that Sangster was focused on race, Homans told the jury to look at the notes she took while attending a training seminar just prior to starting her new post. In the notes, he said, she routinely listed the races of various attendees, using “AA” to note African-Americans and other initials to note whites and Hispanics. Sangster was the first witness called in the trial, and in his questioning, Homans set out to discredit her claim that her sole motivation in making the lay-off decisions was economics. Instead of cutting costs, Homans told the jury, Sangster had actually increased the department’s budget. Within a year, Homans said, Sangster had hired about 10 new workers in the department, and the first seven were African-American. Homans also told the jury that Sangster had increased a section of the office that specialized in procuring from minority- and women-owned businesses from one employee to four. One witness, Homans said, told the jury that Sangster’s claim that she was eliminating a “layer” of management was “a sham” since she had effectively replaced all of the laid-off workers. Singley declined to be interviewed after the verdict. In a statement, the school district said: “We vehemently disagree with the verdict and are currently exploring the possibility of post-trial motions and appeals.” But in court papers, Singley laid out his trial strategy, showing that he intended to argue that Sangster’s lay-off decisions were all the direct result of a finding in December 2001 that the school district was in “fiscal and educational distress” and placed under the control of the School Reform Commission. Singley said in his pretrial memorandum that Sangster “was charged with revamping the procurement process to improve efficiency and reduce costs with a goal of a 10 percent cost reduction.” As a result, Singley said in his brief, Sangster “conducted a thorough review of the department’s operations” and “interviewed each employee in the department to evaluate the various reporting structures and opportunities for cost savings and effective reorganization.” In the end, Singley said, Sangster concluded that the department “had an excessive number of managerial employees” and decided to eliminate four positions. But Singley argued in his brief that there was “no evidence that Sangster made her decision based upon race. Rather, the evidence indicates that Sangster made a cost-based decision to terminate four of her highest-earning managers, after a careful review and conclusion that the department could continue to operate efficiently without them.” In a department that was already “populated almost exclusively by white males,” Singley wrote, “it was inevitable that any reorganization would result in the layoff of some white males.” Singley also argued that the plaintiffs, in their “reverse” race discrimination claim, had “no direct evidence of discrimination, but rather only racial comments allegedly made by Sangster in Johnston’s — and only Johnston’s — presence.” The brief said Sangster “did not make the comments,” but that, even if she had, “they would be only minimally probative of race discrimination.” The brief also alleged that Johnston “intentionally destroyed the contemporaneous notes of the comments he claims to have made at the time the comments were made to him.”

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