A federal jury has awarded Lincoln firefighter Troy Hurd $1.2 million in his case against the city for retaliation he faced from Lincoln Fire and Rescue command staff after reporting that a female recruit from Iraq had been harassed.
Hurd wasn't in the Omaha courtroom for the verdict, reached at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday.
His attorney, Kelly Brandon, said the fire captain, who still works at Lincoln Fire and Rescue, was on duty.
"We hope that this is the catalyst for real change throughout Lincoln Fire and Rescue and the city of Lincoln," she said. "Troy Hurd, Sara Khalil and the rest of the firefighters who bravely testified deserve that."
The jury of six men and six women got the case Friday at the end of a two-week trial.
In closing arguments, another of Hurd's attorneys, Paige Fiedler, said after Hurd filed a formal complaint alleging firefighter trainer Eddie Mueller, now a captain, was treating 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, Kimberley Taylor-Riley, the city’s director of equity and diversity, concluded in a 64-page report that LFR command staff had retaliated against Hurd and treated him differently than others.
In response, the city conducted two training sessions and removed the disciplinary actions from Hurd’s personnel file but ignored many of Taylor-Riley's other recommendations.
In closing arguments, Assistant City Attorney Elizabeth Elliott disputed that Mueller had treated Khalil differently than anyone else. She said Khalil struggled on paramedic calls, but that had nothing to do with her race or gender.
Khalil now is a Lincoln police officer.
And, Elliott said, while the department's discipline process may have been inconsistent, when Hurd was written up it was for errors he made — and nothing more.
She pointed to troubles in Hurd's personal life that predated his complaint.
Brandon countered in her rebuttal that the trial wasn't to decide whether Hurd was a saint or a sinner. You don't have to be a perfect human being to be entitled to protection from retaliation, she said.
"This is not a guy who's after money," Brandon said. "He's out for justice."
She said the city stole Hurd's dignity and his career, the love of his life.
In its verdict, the jury found in his favor, saying that the city had failed to prove that the same adverse employment actions would have been imposed against him whether he reported the harassment or not.
The jury awarded him $1,177,815.43, the bulk of it for past and future emotional distress, but also $44,000 for lost wages and $36,000 in past and future medical expenses.
The Journal Star first reported on disciplinary action against Hurd in April 2015, noting that at least three chiefs disciplined him four times over the course of two years and Chief John Huff blocked him from a temporary promotion that carried a 10 percent pay bump.
“I was put up on a pedestal so even the littlest or minutest mistakes I made, they got elevated to the next level,” Hurd told the Journal Star in 2015. "You walk around with eyes behind your head because you don’t know what’s going to happen next.
“It made my life hell.”
Tuesday, Brandon thanked the members of the jury for listening to Hurd, who she described as one of the most courageous people she's ever met.
"They attacked him viciously on the stand and the jury rejected that," she said.
Acting City Attorney Chris Connolly confirmed the city has insurance for cases such as this.
"We are disappointed with the verdict, and we are reviewing our options that would be in the best interest of the city," he said.