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Kansas City Council could pay $1.4 million to settle racial discrimination case

Completed in 1934, the Jackson County Courthouse features Art Deco design elements on the interior and exterior.
Carlos Moreno
In February 2020, a Jackson County jury ruled in favor of Ronald Williams and awarded him $790,000, including $504,000 in punitive damages and $286,000 in compensatory damages.

Ronald Williams, who worked as a maintenance electrician in the water department, sued the city in 2018, alleging a pattern of racially motivated discrimination.

The Kansas City Council will vote this week on whether to approve a $1.4 million settlement with a former city employee who sued the city for race discrimination and retaliation.

Ronald Williams, who is Black, was a master electrician in the city’s Water Services Department from June 2011 to January 2017.

His lawsuit detailed a pattern of racially motivated discrimination, alleging that white employees with less experience were offered training courses that allowed them to receive job promotions over otherwise more qualified Black employees.

Williams also alleged that he was punished when he contradicted a white electrician and that one of his supervisors called African American electricians “incompetent” on more than one occasion.

Following a month-long trial, in February 2020 a Jackson County jury awarded Williams $790,000, including $504,000 in punitive damages and $286,000 in compensatory damages. The judge also awarded him legal fees of nearly half a million dollars.

The city appealed the verdict, but the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld it in December 2021. The Missouri Supreme Court subsequently denied the city’s motion to review the case.

The settlement goes before the Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee meeting on Wednesday. Subject to the committee’s approval, the full council will take it up on Thursday.

In April, another Black former employee of the water department, Craig Moye, accepted the city’s offer to settle his race discrimination lawsuit for $500,000. Moye alleged he was harassed, retaliated against and passed over for promotions because of his race.

And in 2017, the city agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by LaDonna Nunley, a chemist in the water department. Nunley alleged the department had created a sexually hostile workplace.

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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