Court upholds jury verdict for 8 fired Anderson workers

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Eight fired city of Anderson employees who won a $731,994 damages award after a jury trial successfully rebuffed the former mayor’s request for judgment overturning the verdict or a new trial.

A federal district court jury in Indianapolis awarded the compensatory damages this year for the workers who were fired when Republican former Mayor Kevin Smith took office in 2012. The workers asserted, and the jury found, that they were fired because they had supported Smith’s Democratic rival in the 2011 election, then-Mayor Roger Ockomon.

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt on Friday affirmed the jury verdict for each worker and denied Smith’s motion for judgment as a matter of law on the complaint and his alternative motion for a new trial. Smith argued the employees occupied positions that required political loyalty and the trial court erred in two key jury instructions.

“The Supreme Court and Seventh Circuit list only the following two factors when determining whether ‘political loyalty’ is essential: either … the job involves the making of policy and thus the exercise of political judgment or the provision of political advice to the elected superior, or because it is a job (such as speechwriting) that gives the holder access to his political superiors’ confidential, politically sensitive thoughts,” Pratt wrote, citing Riley v. Blagojevich, 425 F.3d 357, 359 (7th Cir. 2005).

The jury concluded that the workers fired by Smith were entitled to damages, and their legal fees also will be paid because of their constitutional deprivations. Each worker — Robin Allman, Mark Baugher, Kristie Binda, Gary Davis, Andrew Greene, Michael McKinley, Tim Stires and Jeff Welker — held positions below those of department heads.

It was within the jury’s province to determine that the employees’ positions were not those requiring political loyalty, Pratt wrote. She also rejected the argument that a new trial should be granted because jury instructions misstated the law.

“The Court also finds, when ‘considering the instructions as a whole, along with all of the evidence and arguments,’ Defendants were not prejudiced because the jury was not misinformed about the applicable law,” she wrote.

The case is Robin Allman, et al. v. Kevin Smith and the City of Anderson, 1:12-cv-568.

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