Trash collector gets $144,000 for demotion

Friday, April 28, 2000

By Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The city of Pittsburgh will have to pay garbage collector Brian Kemp $144,180 for demoting him after he filed a race discrimination complaint against his supervisors in the bureau of environmental services.

A jury in U.S. District Court yesterday decided that LaMar Barnes, assistant director of the Department of Public Works, improperly removed Kemp as an acting foreman after Kemp said his immediate supervisor, Ted Patterson, harassed him for two years because of his race.

Kemp is white; Patterson is black.

After the verdict, Kemp, 38, of Allentown, sat on a bench in the hallway and wept. He referred questions to his elated attorney, Sam Cordes, who will seek $100,000 in attorney's fees to be paid in addition to the damage award.

"This was solely about retaliation; that was the issue," he said.

An all-white jury heard the case, but Cordes said that fact had nothing to do with the outcome.

"Not at all," he said. "The jury decided on the liability within a half-an-hour of deliberating. Within a half-an-hour, they had a question about damages."

U.S. District Chief Judge Donald Ziegler told the jury to consider only Kemp's charge that Barnes retaliated against him. Jurors were instructed to disregard the initial complaint, in which Kemp said Patterson repeatedly cursed him, pushed him, antagonized him with a poster of Louis Farrakhan and created a "racially hostile work environment" for whites in a department where the majority of employees are black.

City Solicitor Jacqueline Morrow said the city won't appeal.

"The city was not found guilty of racial discrimination, but of retaliation," she said. "LaMar did something he shouldn't have done. I don't believe he did it with animus. If he did, why would he have brought in a court reporter?"

At a meeting in July 1997, after Kemp had filed his complaint about Patterson with the city's Commission on Human Relations, a court reporter took down the proceeding. The meeting was also tape-recorded.

The case hinged on what Barnes told Kemp at that meeting. Although Barnes is heard describing Kemp as an excellent worker and asking why he didn't say something about his problems earlier, he also said he demoted Kemp because "if you file a suit against another management member, another management team, you shouldn't be on that team."

Barnes said in court that he removed Kemp as acting foreman to avoid any possible physical confrontation between Patterson and Kemp, since they shared an office.

The jury awarded Kemp $81,000 in back pay, $21,520 in "front pay," $40,000 for emotional distress and $1,660 for medical expenses. Kemp, who is still employed by the city but isn't working, has been treated for depression he says is related to the demotion.

Kemp said he and Cordes would decide if he'll seek to get his job back as acting foreman, but that will mean another legal battle.

Acting foreman isn't a job description in the city contract but a temporary position. If the judge decides at a future hearing that Kemp should be reinstated as an acting foreman and not as a lower-paid garbage collector, Morrow said, the city will appeal.