The cost of demoting a Minneapolis deputy fire chief to fire captain rose to $595,000 on Friday.
The City Council voted to pay $175,000 to Capt. Jean Kidd and her three attorneys for legal fees in her lawsuit, which she won in U.S. District Court in December, where a jury awarded her $420,000 in damages
The total payout is the largest in memory for a Minneapolis Fire Department employee case, said City Attorney Susan Segal, although she added that the department has not experienced many cases.
"It is significant; it's painful," Segal said. "We will continue to work with city management and with our city human resources department to make sure that checks are in place so that employment-related claims are defensible in the future, so as to minimize liability."
Kidd, 53, told federal jurors that she was demoted from deputy chief in retaliation for remarks she made on an employee survey in 2009. In it, she criticized the management of then-Chief Alex Jackson. Her attorneys argued that Jackson recognized her writing style and demoted her -- 12 days after he had signed off on a glowing job review.
After a three-day trial, the court voted Dec. 20 to award Kidd $420,000, with the city then required to pay the winning attorneys their legal fees.
Segal said the $175,000 could have been "significantly" higher if left to the courts. She said Kidd's three attorneys each charge $400 an hour. In addition to their work and trial time, the three would have charged more hours if the city had appealed the federal decision and lost, she said.
John Klassen, one of her three attorneys, said that he expects that had he and the city attorney's office not settled the fee question, the court would have awarded the attorneys $150,000 to $200,000. He said the attorneys told the city that they would agree to take less if the city did not appeal the federal decision, a typical tactic in such situations.
Klassen declined to discuss how the $595,000 will be divided among Kidd and her attorneys.
However, because attorneys generally work on a percentage basis if they win a case, it is expected that the three lawyers' portion of the $595,000 will exceed $175,000.
Klassen called the payout "one of the largest First Amendment retaliation judgments and settlements for a public employee in the United States."