The city of Lincoln is asking a judge to throw out the jury’s $1.2 million verdict in favor of a Lincoln firefighter, in part because of how jurors arrived at the amount.
Last month, at the end of a two-week trial, a federal jury in Omaha awarded Troy Hurd, a Lincoln fire captain, $1,177,815.43 for retaliation after he reported discrimination against a female firefighter trainee born in Iraq.
The bulk of the money was for emotional distress — past ($166,500) and future ($930,472) — plus $44,000 for lost wages and $36,000 in past and future medical expenses.
In a motion filed this week, Assistant City Attorney Jocelyn Golden said a city paralegal talked to five jurors and learned that another of the jurors had created a spreadsheet at home and brought his computer in on the second day of deliberations to help them determine damages for future emotional distress.
One juror said "the amount of damages the members of the jury believed was appropriate was millions of dollars apart," Golden said.
She said before the spreadsheet entered the equation, the other juror thought $100,000 was a proper amount.
Jurors eventually arrived at nine times that.
Golden argued the emotional distress damages reached by the jury "were excessive and influenced by emotion and passion, not the evidence."
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She said none of the five jurors the paralegal talked with knew the formula the spreadsheet relied on or could explain in detail how the final figure was reached other than saying it was based on Hurd's earnings.
She said use of the spreadsheet, with a formula derived from unknown origin, unfairly prejudiced the city and argued it merited a new trial solely on the damages or for the judge to determine an amount.
"At a minimum, the court should open an investigation into the jury deliberations to determine the prejudicial impact of the extraneous evidence," Golden wrote.
She also raised a number of other issues over evidence that she argued the jury should have been allowed to see, like Hurd's medical records, or shouldn't have been allowed to see, like city employee Kimberly Taylor-Riley's investigative report about Hurd's allegations and Mayor Chris Beutler's testimony about her conclusion that the city had retaliated against Hurd.
Acting City Attorney Chris Connolly declined to comment on the motion more than to say such motions are commonly filed following a verdict.
At trial, Hurd's attorneys said after Hurd filed a formal complaint alleging firefighter trainer Eddie Mueller, now a captain, was treating Sara Khalil differently because she’s a woman born in Iraq, people in the department started looking at him as a troublemaker.
He got passed over for promotions and written up for things that didn’t lead to disciplinary action for others.
In 2014, after a two-year investigation, Taylor-Riley, the city’s director of equity and diversity, concluded in a 64-page report that Lincoln Fire and Rescue command staff had retaliated against Hurd and treated him differently than others.
Last week, Hurd's attorney, Kelly Brandon, filed a motion seeking $632,634 in attorney fees, which if approved would be paid by the city.