Court Upholds Jury Verdict In Favor Of White Officer In Race Retaliation Cas

Larry Swanson, who is white, was hired as a part-time patrol officer with the City of Bruce, Mississippi Police Department in 1990. Swanson has also served in the elected position of Calhoun County Constable since 1988.

Swanson rose to become the part-time assistant police chief for the City in 1997. Swanson received no complaints about his duty performance until the City hired a black Police Chief, E.J. Bobo, in 1997. Bobo’s tenure as Chief was rocky, and in 2000, both he and Swanson had their employment with the Police Department terminated, allegedly for “lack of department unity.” Swanson’s position was eventually filled by a Hispanic law enforcement officer.

Swanson filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging that he was terminated from his position based on race discrimination and race-based retaliation because of his support and loyalty to Bobo. Swanson’s claim for race retaliation was subsequently tried before a jury, which returned a verdict in Swanson’s favor in the amount of $32,940 in back pay and $18,060 in damages for emotional distress. The City filed a motion to set aside the jury’s verdict.

The federal Court rejected the City’s motion, and upheld the jury’s verdict. The Court found that Swanson produced enough evidence to show that members of the City Board of Aldermen were hostile to him because he defended Bobo. In addition, the Court noted, the undisputed evidence at trial was that one alderman “voted to terminate Swanson’s employment even though he told Swanson that he was doing a good job and thus had no non-discriminatory reason to fire him. Given this evidence, it was clearly reasonable for the jury to conclude that the City’s proffered reason for discharge was false and that the real reason for Swanson’s termination was racially-based retaliation.”

Swanson v. City of Bruce, Mississippi, 2006 WL 717489 (N.D.Miss. 2006).

This article appears in the May 2006 issue