KING COUNTY juvenile corrections employee Ralph Bunch finally got his day in court—and won big.
Bunch was awarded $603,500 by a King County Superior Court jury after a three-week trial. Jurors upheld both Bunch's claim of racial discrimination and his contention that detention officials had retaliated against him for filing the suit. The victory also bolsters Bunch and other workers who argue that the juvenile jail is a hotbed of cronyism and favoritism. Bunch filed his suit against the county in May 1999; he was fired last July (see "Jailhouse Slop," Aug. 2).
"We had all the evidence," says Bunch of his court win. Many current and former juvenile detention employees testified in the case, including Nate Caldwell, the county's juvenile detention director. Caldwell has been on leave since March, awaiting trial on federal charges of falsifying testimony in a civil rights suit against his former employer, the Alachua County (Gainesville, Fla.) Jail.
The jury awarded Bunch $260,000 for emotional distress, $3,500 for past lost wages, and $340,000 in future lost wages. Yet Bunch says he wants to return to work at the juvenile detention facility. "I've got some unfinished business," he says. "So I'll be going through the regular channels to get my job back."
By law, the county will also have to pay Bunch's legal fees and costs, says attorney Mary Ruth Mann.
This isn't the first discrimination claim by juvenile detention employees. In 1995, four female employees won $800,000 in a suit against their former union. (King County, also a defendant in the suit, opted out of that court fight by paying the four a $390,000 settlement.)
No decision has been made as to whether the county will appeal. "We're going to review the decision and decide on our next steps," says Elaine Kraft, spokesperson for King County Executive Ron Sims.
Bunch's lawyer Mann says she hopes her client's victory in court will lead to permanent changes in the way King County runs its juvenile detention programs. "I'm really pleased for everybody down there that it turned out that way," she says, "because things need to change."