NEW ORLEANS, March 30 -- New Orleans's first black district attorney discriminated against 43 whites when he fired them en masse and replaced them with blacks upon taking office in 2003, a federal jury decided Wednesday. The jury awarded the employees about $1.8 million in back pay and damages.
The jury, made up of eight whites and two blacks, returned the unanimous verdict in the third day of deliberations in the racial discrimination case against District Attorney Eddie Jordan.
Jordan acknowledged he wanted to make the office more reflective of the city's racial makeup, but denied he fired whites just because they were white. He said he did not know the race of the people fired.
Under U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval's instructions, jurors had to find Jordan liable if they concluded the firings were racially motivated. The law bars the mass firing of a specific group, even if the intent is to create diversity.
"We thought the facts as well as the law favored us. I still maintain that I did not use race as a factor in my hiring practices," Jordan said.
Jordan said the district attorney's office, which is liable for the award, cannot afford to pay the verdict. It was not immediately clear whether state or city, or both, would be responsible for paying the money.
Plaintiffs' attorney Clement Donelon said he was elated. "The plaintiffs' civil rights, every single, solitary one of them, were violated," he said.
The judge could order that the fired white workers be reinstated, but lawyers consider this unlikely. Such mandates are rare, as they require continuing court supervision.
The whites' lawyers argued that many of those who were fired had far more experience and scored higher in job interviews than blacks who were either hired anew or kept on.
The whites testified that they found themselves jobless in late middle age, after years of working in law enforcement agencies, including the New Orleans Police Department.