The plaintiff claimed that he was fired after complaining about a racist supervisor at the Alleghany County Jail.
A federal jury has awarded a former Pennsylvania corrections official close to $1 million over claims that the Alleghany County jail retaliated against him for reporting a supervisor’s racially charged comments and text messages.
According to The Associated Press, the jury’s decision was delivered on Friday, nearly five years after plaintiff Jeffrey Kengerski filed his lawsuit against the county and jail warden in 2017.
In his lawsuit, Kengerski recalled that he lost his job in 2015.
While working at Alleghany County jail, Kengerski reported that he told his coworkers that he and his wife were planning to take their grand-niece into their care full-time—prompting Kengerski’s supervisor to refer to the girl as a “little monkey” before asking if she was Black.
Kengerski noted that the same supervisor had sent him multiple text messages featuring heavily “stereotyped” images of Black and Asian people.
The text messages, the lawsuit states, often included captions comparing the cartoon figures with jail employees.
The supervisor eventually left her position in 2015.
However, Kengerski said that, shortly before the supervisor’s departure, she reassigned him to the night shift after discovering that Kengerski had filed a complaint against her.
According to Kengerski, other jail employees then began harassing him, bombarding him with “racist phone calls.”
Kengerski says that he was also physically threatened and falsely accused of misconduct.
Attorneys for Alleghany County say that Kengerski was terminated with cause. However, Kengerski maintains that his superiors referred to the supposedly fabricated misconduct complaint when providing reason for his dismissal.
Earlier this week, a federal jury awarded Kengerski $930,000 for compensatory damages, front pay, and back pay.
“The law promises employees that they will be protected if they report racism in the workplace,” said Kengerski’s attorney Margaret S. Coleman. “This jury made good on the promise that Allegheny County and Warden Harper broke.”
Kengerski has also celebrated the verdict, won after years of hard litigation.
“I am ecstatic about the verdict,” Mr. Kengerski said in a media statement. “It has been a difficult eight years for me and my family, but I knew that if I didn’t fight back, the harassers would win.”
Alleghany County Solicitor General George Janocsko has since called the jury’s decision “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,” Janocski wrote in a 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.”