Fla. Department of Corrections ordered to pay out $1M in wrongful termination case

The employee said she was denied promotions and pay raises on the basis of her race, then fired when she reported it.

The Department of Corrections (DOC) will have to pay a former employee $1 million in a wrongful termination case, a federal judge ruled last week.

Tallahassee woman Celena Grant, a near-10-year veteran of DOC who worked as a human resources manager, was fired in 2018 after she reported what she called a pattern of race-based pay discrimination at DOC. A federal jury in the Northern District of Florida found last year that DOC terminated her in retaliation for filing the complaint.

The jury found the state owed her $1 million for wrongful termination. More than eight months later, on Tuesday, Judge Mark Walker in the Northern District of Florida detailed the award: $300,000 for lost wages and $700,000 for emotional pain, as the jury had ruled, and nearly $53,000 in front pay.

“We fought tirelessly for this client for over 3 years to get her the justice that she deserved after DOC callously tossed her out on the street for standing up for her rights,” Grants’ attorney, Tiffany Cruz, said in a statement.

Front pay is designed to compensate retaliation victims for the reasonable amount of time it would take them to find comparable employment elsewhere. Grant had started a job at the Black News Channel but lost that job when the Tallahassee-based network shut down in March.

In March 2018, Grant reported to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her race and sex. Grant, a Black woman, argued she had been overlooked for a promotion in favor of White employees and denied pay raises when taking on additional duties, pay raises she said her White counterparts received in similar situations. In August 2018, DOC terminated Grant.

“The juries’ substantial verdict further affirms that discriminatory and retaliatory conduct by government agencies cannot and will not be tolerated,” Cruz said.

In a statement to Florida Politics, DOC press secretary Paul Walker said the department plans to appeal the ruling.

“The Florida Department of Corrections refutes the allegations in this lawsuit and will be pursuing post judgment motions and an appeal. FDC proudly employs a diverse workforce and does not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” Walker said.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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