PITTSBURGH (AP) — A federal jury awarded a former Allegheny County jailer close to $1 million in his lawsuit alleging he was fired in retaliation for reporting racist comments and texts from a supervisor.
The decision came Friday, about five years after Jeffrey Kengerski filed the lawsuit against the county and the jail warden in 2017. He was fired in 2015 for what his attorneys said were false allegations of misconduct by subordinates. An attorney for the county maintained Tuesday that Kengerski was fired for proper cause and said the county will likely appeal.
Kengerski said he was telling coworkers that he and his wife planned to take their grand-niece into their care full-time, when his supervisor referred to the biracial girl as a “little monkey” after asking if she was Black. Kengerski said the supervisor also then sent him multiple texts that included stereotyped images of Black and Asian people that often included captions comparing them to Black and Asian jail employees.
The supervisor left the jail in 2015, according to the lawsuit. But before she left, Kengerski alleged that she reassigned him to the night shift as retaliation after he filed a complaint.
Kengerski alleged other jail employees harassed him by making racist calls to his work number, physically threatened him and falsely accused him of misconduct. He was fired the same day as the misconduct allegation was made, according to the lawsuit.
Kengerski was awarded over $930,000 by the jury, for compensatory damages, front pay and back pay.
Allegheny County Solicitor George Janocsko called the jury’s decision extremely disappointing.
“The county presented a strong case, with evidence from multiple sources, that Mr. Kengerski directed subordinates to falsify information in reports and also disclosed confidential information,” he wrote in an emailed statement. “We do not and will not condone any racism by any employee of this county and take offense to any assumption that this was the basis for Mr. Kengerski’s termination. We are exploring all legal options, including a likely appeal of this decision.”
The lawsuit had been dismissed by a state judge, but that decision was reversed by a federal judge. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument that the conduct reported by Kengerski was not racist, but a harmless zoomorphism — saying the context of the comment was clearly racial.
In Los Angeles, a recently leaked recording of a conversation between the City Council president Nury Martinez and other Latino leaders, where she can be heard making racist remarks and likening the Black son of a white councilman to a monkey, resulted in Martinez resigning her leadership position Monday.