A white woman has been awarded $750,000 in damages by a jury on grounds she was fired from her job solely because of her race.
During a seven-day trial before a jury of four whites and two blacks, attorneys for the city of Detroit admitted that Janice Gillespie was fired from her secretary-bookkeeper job with the Detroit Housing Commission seven years ago because she is white.
The jury deliberated less than two hours Tuesday before returning a unanimous verdict.
It was the second time a jury awarded damages to Gillespie. She won $500,000 in a trial three years ago, but that judgement was set aside and a new trial ordered after city attorney's appealed, calling the settlement excessive. The city said it also will appeal the second jury's verdict.
Barbara Brooks of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said, "I've heard of people filing complaints and suits alleging bias because they are white but nothing like this, where the complainant was found to be discriminated against because they are white and where this kind of money was granted."
Gillespie, now 41, worked for the Detroit Housing Commission's Board of Tenant Affairs, which is compromised of tenants from city-operated public housing units.
Until three years ago, the time of her first trial, Gillespie had been the only white person ever to work for the board. She was fired in 1973 by the board's 16 tenant directors, all but two of whom were black.
The official reason for dismissal was "insubordination" and taking too much time off work. But during the trial, the chairman of the tenant board testified that during meetings to discuss Gillespie's employment, "The conversation was fire her because she's white."
His predecessor testified that Gillespie was an "excellent" worker when she was a temporary employe but that board members did not want to hire her full time because of her race.
The city argued that it should not be held accountable for actions of the board because only half the members are officially appointed by the mayor. The others are elected by fellow public-housing tenants.
Gillespie, who now operates a dog-grooming service in her home, will not discuss the case.
"After this experience, she feels more comfortable with animals than with people," her attorney said.