Demoted Mpls. fire captain wins $420,000 verdict
- Article by: RANDY FURST
- Star Tribune
- December 21, 2012 - 12:26 AM
A Minneapolis fire captain, who claimed she was demoted for criticizing the department's former fire chief, was awarded $420,000 Thursday by a federal jury in St. Paul.
Capt. Jean Kidd, 53, said she was "thrilled" by the verdict, which followed a three-day civil trial in which she told jurors in U.S. District Court that she had been demoted from her job as a deputy chief in retaliation for remarks she made on an employee survey in 2009. In it, she criticized the management of the fire department by then-Chief Alex Jackson.
"They believed me," Kidd said of the jury decision. She plans to retire next year.
Susan Segal, Minneapolis city attorney, said Thursday she was "disappointed" by the verdict but respected the jury process. "We continue to believe that our former chief acted in good faith" in removing Kidd as deputy chief, she said.
"There are some legal issues with the verdict that we are reviewing and we may decide to bring before court some post trial motions," she said.
The verdict represents one of the largest judgments against the city fire department, which has been wracked with turmoil over the past decade.
The city faced six lawsuits by five firefighters over the alleged misdeeds of former Fire Chief Bonnie Bleskachek. Several cases were settled out of court and one trial resulted in a $150,000 award in 2009, three years after Bleskachek was removed in a sex scandal. The legal bills and payouts in those cases cost the city at least $668,500.
Jackson retired in February amid criticism by the City Council over his management of the department, including ballooning overtime and his handling of safety inspections.
Mark Lakosky, president of Firefighters Local 82, said Thursday he was certain Kidd would win the case. "I wish he [Jackson] was here to get punished," Lakosky said.
City Council President Barb Johnson said she was disappointed by the verdict and would consult with the city attorney's office on any next steps. "We thought our case was strong and that's why we went to trial," she said.
Kidd, 53, who now works at Fire Station 16 at 1600 Glenwood Av. N., was one of the first group of five women to be hired by the city's department in 1986.
She became the department's first female fire captain in 1992 and was named deputy chief of personnel in 2007. She was one of three finalists for Minneapolis fire chief in 2008, losing out to Jackson.
According to John Klassen, one of her three attorneys, she responded to a computerized survey in 2009, conducted by the city to evaluate Jackson's management performance.
"She honestly answered that he had strengths and honestly criticized his weaknesses, which were lack of vision, lack of business knowledge, failure to plan," Klassen said.
Jackson received the survey results on June 19, 2009. "He reviewed them in the course of the next week and demoted her on June 30, claiming she was detrimental to the chemistry of his team," Klassen said.
He said that he and Kidd's other two lawyers, Andrew Muller and Thomas Conley, contended that while the responses to the computer survey were submitted anonymously, she had a distinctive writing style that Jackson was able to detect.
Klassen said the city tried to argue that Kidd's personality had caused problems in his management team, but he said that on June 18, Jackson had signed off on a glowing job review of Kidd, citing her for her interpersonal skills and ability to get along with co-workers.
"So we argued, what happened during the 12 days after that review to get the chief to do a 180 on his assessment?" Klassen said.
Segal said Thursday Jackson decided to remove Kidd as deputy chief "in the best interest of the fire department ... and was not related to any comments she had made about him."
The verdict included $90,000 for pay Kidd lost because of the demotion, $30,000 for emotional distress and $300,000 in punitive damages.
In an unrelated lawsuit against the Minneapolis police department, the city prevailed on Wednesday. A federal court tossed out a suit filed by the mother of Quincy De'Shawn Smith, who died after police used a Taser to subdue him during an arrest in 2008.
Staff writers David Chanen and Eric Roper contributed to this report. Randy Furst • 612-673-4224
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