Jurors rejected a lawsuit by an employee at Washington State University Tri-Cities seeking up to $2.4 million in damages for discrimination and retaliation.
Eleven of 12 jurors found Dallas Barnes, who is black, failed to prove the university discriminated and retaliated against him by passing him over for promotion and stripping duties from him after unfavorable job evaluations. The 12th juror was undecided. In a civil case, at least 10 jurors must agree.
Jury foreman Ethan Brackenbury said he and the other jurors said Barnes was likable and they thought he and the other witnesses were credible.
However, he said the jurors couldn't make the stretch that the school actively discriminated and retaliated against Barnes. It stuck with them that Barnes didn't always apply for the jobs he wanted.
"Some of the responsibility rests on him," Brackenbury told the Herald.
Brackenbury said some jurors were concerned that a number of the witnesses for Barnes have pending lawsuits against the university. And, he said, the racial remarks, while terrible things, were never said to Barnes personally.
"I don't think it was reflective of the university," Brackenbury said.
Barnes said he would have to discuss with his attorney George Fearing whether to appeal the verdict.
"I think we put forth an excellent case," he told the Herald.
In his closing argument Monday morning, Fearing said that his client was left "to rot on the WSU vine" at the Richland campus as punishment for challenging administrators and for a 1994 lawsuit filed against the university when he worked at WSU's Pullman campus.
Washington Assistant Attorney General Paul Triesch didn't deny to the jury that one of Barnes' former administrators sometimes used racial terms in referring to him. He said Barnes is a likable and credible man, but his mindset is narrowly focused.
"He (believes he's) the center of WSU and everything revolves around him," Triesch told jurors.
Fearing told jurors his client hoped to move up the administrative ladder when he relocated to the Richland campus in 1996 as part of a settlement of his 1994 lawsuit alleging discrimination by the university.
"Instead, his moving to the Tri-Cities turned out to be a banishment," Fearing said.
Barnes saw others appointed ahead of him as directors of the school's student affairs department. Two of those appointees, Pat Wright and Jaime Contreras, eventually left their posts either by force or when facing disciplinary action. Contreras is accused of mockingly calling Barnes "Kunta Kinte," a fictional slave character in the book Roots, or Thurgood Marshall, the first black man to be on the U.S. Supreme Court, in front of office staff.
Fearing added that while Barnes was given numerous negative job reviews in recent years, none gave a specific reason for the negative scores, and some were conducted by administrators who didn't observe Barnes' work. Throughout his closing argument, Fearing used a hammer to strike a nail to demonstrate how WSU administrators have tried to nail Barnes back into place.
Barnes had expected to be a vice chancellor or chancellor at the university by now, Fearing said, and asked the jury to award him a minimum of $547,000 up to $2.4 million in damages, partially in lost pay from his lack of promotion and for other emotional distress and damages.
"We're not here to punish, we're here to recompense," Fearing said.
Triesch told jurors it is Barnes' mindset that has led him to believe he is discriminated and retaliated against. Of the 13 administrators accused of retaliating or discriminating against Barnes, Triesch said eight are men, five are women, three are black and one is Hispanic.
Triesch noted that Barnes didn't apply to be head of student affairs on at least one occasion, but expected to receive the job, and that administrators on the Pullman campus have other business to worry about than to persecute Barnes for a past lawsuit.
Barnes said he planned to return to his job at the university in coming days. He's been gone since July 2 because of a medical condition, according to court testimony.
-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org