New Orleans Prosecutor Is Guilty of Racial Bias
New Orleans’ first black district attorney discriminated against 43 whites when he fired them en masse and replaced them with blacks upon taking office in 2003, a federal jury decided Wednesday. The jury awarded the employees about $1.8 million in back pay and damages.
The jury -- made up of eight whites and two blacks -- returned the unanimous verdict in the third day of deliberations in the racial discrimination case against Dist. Atty. Eddie Jordan.
Jordan acknowledged he wanted to make the office more reflective of the city’s racial makeup, but denied he fired whites because they were white. He said he did not know the race of the people who were fired.
Under U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval’s instructions, jurors had to find Jordan liable if they concluded the firings were racially motivated. The law bars the mass firing of a specific group, even if the intent was to create diversity.
Jordan, stoic in the courtroom as the verdict was read, told reporters that he was disappointed and would appeal.
“We thought the facts, as well as the law, favored us,” he said. “I still maintain that I did not use race as a factor in my hiring practices.”
Jordan said the district attorney’s office, which is liable for the award, cannot afford to pay the verdict.
It was not immediately clear whether the state or city, or both, would ultimately be responsible for paying the money.
Plaintiffs’ lawyer Clement Donelon said he was elated.
“The plaintiffs’ civil rights, every single, solitary one of them, were violated,” Donelon said.
“You may be able to fire people, but don’t do it because of race. That goes both ways.”
Clemens Herbert, a former investigator who was fired, said: “What I wanted was a win. Money was not the issue. He was trying to disguise racial discrimination through politics, and the jury saw through it.”
The judge could order that the fired workers be reinstated, but lawyers considered it unlikely.
Such mandates were rare because they required continuing court supervision.
One of Louisiana’s most prominent black politicians, Jordan was U.S. attorney before getting elected district attorney.