Commissioners in Lee County, Florida, have proposed a settlement for the seven plaintiffs that had sued the government body for wrongful termination. The workers, who were employed at the county jail, said they were fired because they assisted with an internal investigation at the facility. Their department had been targeted because of alleged misconduct. The group may receive a total settlement of about $500,000.
The county has not yet admitted liability in the case; administrators contend that the employees were not fired because of their participation in the investigation. Rather, the workers were terminated from their jobs because of reported racist and sexist comments that they made while at work. The workers’ jobs were later reinstated, according to local media reports.
County administrators recommended the settlement during a hearing in early March. Most of the settlement money would reportedly go to attorneys’ fees, which add up to about $300,000. If the commissioners choose not to settle with the plaintiffs, the case will go to trial. If that happens, the plaintiffs will accrue a significant amount in legal fees to argue their case, which could force the county to pay up to $1 million if even one person wins the case.
The debate in this case continues to rage. Commissioners could choose not to pay the settlement amount, which would result in a trial. Alternatively, the plaintiffs could reject the settlement, which would also prompt a trial. The decision to accept the money could hinge heavily on the fact that the settlement only provides compensatory damages, not punitive damages for emotional effects of the wrongful termination.
In this case, the county might be best-served to offer the settlement to the plaintiffs, simply to avoid the risks associated with jury trial. It is conceivable that the plaintiffs will have to spend a significant amount of money to argue their case, and the county could be required to pay even more money as a result. Settlements allow defendants to avoid the lengthy, complicated trial process while satisfying plaintiffs’ complaints.
Source: Naples News, “Commissioners agree to nearly $500,000 settlement in whistleblower lawsuit,” Maryanne Batlle, March 5, 2013