Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Discrimination Lawsuit Will Cost City $400,000

Council grumbles but okays settlement. 'A very bitter pill to swallow,' says Ald. Murphy.

By - Nov 1st, 2022 05:29 pm
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The City of Milwaukee is on the hook for a $400,000 employment discrimination settlement stemming from an unusual place: its Department of Employee Relations.

Royce Flowers Nash claims he was fired in March 2018 after less than a year as the city’s diversity recruiter for complaining about racial discrimination from a supervisor. Nash is a Black male. The supervisor is a white female.

Nash alleges that longtime city human resources director Maria Monteagudo failed to take corrective steps after he complained about his direct supervisor, Kristin Urban. “Rather than take plaintiff’s complaints seriously and make any effort to remedy his situation and prevent further mistreatment, the City and Monteagudo endorsed the behavior and ultimately terminated the plaintiff in a continuation of the very discrimination and retaliation that he brought forward,” says Nash in a 2021 federal complaint.

Nash alleges Urban interacted differently with Black and white employees, and that after he pointed this out she became hostile to him and overloaded him with menial tasks unrelated to his newly-created job.

In 2019 there was a $145,000 settlement offer that the council unanimously rejected, but then more evidence came to light during the discovery process and a state Equal Rights Division investigation. A 2021 lawsuit from Nash sought a judgment for lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys fees.

“This item has been the subject of many closed sessions,” said committee chair Mark Borkowski when the Judiciary & Legislation Committee reviewed the measure on Oct. 24. He said the committee previously agreed in closed session to approve the settlement if the figure was $400,000. “Thank you counsel for getting us down to that point.”

“I know that no one us wants to approve this,” said Borkowski, looking for a motion. “Nope,” said Alderman Scott Spiker. Then he moved approval.

“I’ll do this with great reluctance, great reluctance,” said Ald. Michael Murphy. “This is a bitter pill to swallow. A very bitter pill.”

On Tuesday, the full council adopted the settlement without discussion. Nash will receive $250,000. His attorney, Peter J. Fox of Fox & Fox S.C., is to receive $150,000. The city will pay for it out of its contingency fund.

Monteagudo retired in 2020 after 32 years with the city. The city denied any wrongdoing and maintained DER’s claim that Nash was fired for poor job performance and conduct toward his supervisors.

The human resources department, since this summer, is now led by Harper Donahue, IV.

Outside Attorney Fees

The council also authorized spending an additional $85,000 with outside firm Davis Kuelthau and $5,428.89 with an expert witness to defend Alderman Robert Bauman‘s 2007 statements about a troubled housing facility at 2713 W. Richardson Pl. It previously authorized spending $240,000 for the law firm and $20,000 for the expert witness.

“We believe there is a good chance of success on the merits on the appeal,” said deputy city attorney Robin A. Pederson when the judicial committee reviewed the proposal. It’s a 15-year-old lawsuit that has twisted and turned through the legal system.

In February, a jury reviewed three claims made by Bauman before ruling against the alderman and issued a $1.4 million verdict against the city. It found that he acted outside the scope of his employment and abused his free speech rights in criticizing the facility and seeking to have it closed. Bauman, in a February interview, defended his comments because they were “absolutely true.” The City of Milwaukee scored a major legal victory in May as Judge Pedro Colon reversed the $1.4 million jury verdict against Bauman. The judge ruled there is no evidence that Bauman acted with “actual malice” in criticizing a since-demolished housing facility for disabled residents in the alderman’s near west side district. The case is now being appealed.

“Unfortunately defense is expensive regardless of the merits of the claim,” said Pederson.

Categories: City Hall, Politics, Weekly

One thought on “City Hall: Discrimination Lawsuit Will Cost City $400,000”

  1. mkwagner says:

    All I have to say to the members of the Common Council is, this is a bitter pill of your own making. You could have settled for $145,000 in 2019 but you voted against that settlement. Why? Is it because you believe white women over black men? That is racism, pure and simple. Or could it be that you believed supervisors over their reportees? Either way, you chose to believe the oppressor over the oppressed with little if any investigation. Ultimately who pays the price? It’s the tax payers, the majority of whom have spent their lives dealing with discrimination. You owe Royce Nash a humble apology AND you owe Milwaukee tax payers an apology for your incompetence.

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