A former teacher at a state youth services school in Kansas City has won a verdict of more than $4.3 million in a discrimination lawsuit that said she was fired because she is white.
Patricia Daniels had worked for the state for about nine years before being fired in 2012. She filed a lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court against the Missouri Department of Social Services, which operates the school, also naming three supervisors at the agency as defendants.
In the suit, Daniels said a supervisor at the school, who is black, subjected her to racial discrimination and sexual harassment, at one point telling Daniels she could not teach African-American children because she was “an old suburban white woman.”
After a week-long trial, a Jackson County jury on Monday sided with Daniels, returning a $4,350,000 verdict.
That amount included $750,000 in compensatory damages — $200,000 in lost wages and $550,000 for emotional distress. The remaining $3.6 million came in punitive damages — the jury awarded $100,000 more than Daniels’ attorneys requested.
Kevin Baldwin, an attorney for Daniels, said the verdict shows the law applies to everyone.
“Management engaged in a systematic plan to get rid of her based on her race,” Baldwin said. “And whether she is black, white, Asian, Hispanic or anything else, that is a violation of Missouri law.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services said the agency will not comment on pending litigation.
Daniels worked at the Alternative Resource Center school at 1410 Genessee St., a non-residential school for youths who have been through the juvenile court system.
Her problems began in January 2011, when the school hired a new group leader named Demetrios Walker.
Walker, a former Kansas City Chiefs player, was tasked with handling student discipline. The lawsuit accused Walker of making racially insensitive and sexually inappropriate comments to Daniels and to students over the following 18 months.
According to the lawsuit, Walker told Daniels that “she couldn’t understand inner city young black men and their issues because she is from ‘white suburbia.’”
Daniels had worked at the school for seven years at that time. She said she lived in Kansas City from the age of 6 and attended Westport High School.
Up to that point, Daniels had received positive performance evaluations and had not received any complaints, Baldwin said.
When Daniels complained to higher-level management about the treatment she was receiving, nothing was done, the suit says. Instead, managers retaliated against her, lodging formal complaints against her for events she said never occurred.
Although the lawsuit made claims against other staff at the school, it identified Walker as the source of the trouble.
Baldwin said that instead of holding the students to a higher standard of behavior, “Walker became one of them,” building his relationship with the students by disrespecting Daniels.
As a result, Baldwin said, Daniels “became the enemy.”
Daniels lives in Hutchinson and now works as a substitute teacher.
The verdict will next go to a judge, who can add attorneys’ fees to the total because the case was brought under the Missouri Human Rights Act.
The case might have played out differently under a new law taking effect Aug. 28, said Eric Vernon, another attorney representing Daniels.
The new law, signed earlier this year by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, caps punitive damages in discrimination lawsuits and says only employers can be sued — not individual supervisors who may have engaged in the discriminatory behavior.