Jury sides with state in second racial bias case
DES MOINES (AP) — A Polk County jury has sided with the state of Iowa in the second trial alleging racial bias in hiring practices at Iowa Workforce Development.
The jury returned the verdict Tuesday after less than two hours of deliberation, denying Tereasa Jefferson any award.
“After a two-week trial the jury carefully considered the evidence and rejected the plaintiff’s claims,” said Jeff Thompson, the deputy attorney general who represented the state.
Jefferson, 57, was hired by Iowa Workforce Development in November 1998 to train employees on computer software. She was fired in April 1999 by the agency’s human resources director at the time, Jackie Mallory, who cited poor performance as the reason.
Jefferson continued to apply for state jobs for five years but learned in 2005 she had been placed on exclusion status in a state database, which prevented her from getting another state job. Employees dismissed for performance typically are not excluded from consideration for other jobs, said Jefferson’s attorney, Tom Newkirk.
Jefferson eventually was removed from the list and rehired by IWD in October 2007. She still works there as a legal secretary.
Newkirk said Wednesday the challenge in the case was to prove to the jury that Mallory had Jefferson excluded or had influence over the decision and did so because of racial bias.
The state claimed there wasn’t enough evidence Mallory placed Jefferson on exclusion status or influenced others to do so.
“I think we crossed the barrier of showing she had racial bias and was exhibiting that racial bias toward African Americans,” Newkirk said. “But we may not have crossed the barrier in showing that she was involved in placing our client on the exclusion list.”
Jefferson sought between $175,000 and $400,000, compensation for the money she could have earned over a period of up to 13 years. She also sought money for emotional distress.
It was the second case to stem from a class-action lawsuit that claimed thousands of blacks were denied state jobs due to discrimination.