A woman who was awarded $3.7 million in an age discrimination case against the Missouri Veterans Commission says the state lost its chance to appeal the decision because it missed a key deadline.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, whose office is representing the state, doesn’t deny that his office missed the deadline. But he’s asking Missouri’s Western District Court of Appeals to overlook that fact and allow the state to appeal the decision anyway.
Pat Rowe Kerr was 56 when she was fired from her position as the commission’s senior adviser of veteran outreach in 2009. She said she lost the job not because of poor performance, but because Veterans Commission director Larry Kay has a problem with older, successful women.
In July a jury agreed, awarding Kerr roughly $2.8 million in damages.
On Oct. 12, Cole County Judge Jon Beetem denied the state’s request for a new trial and awarded Kerr another $900,000 in fees and associated costs. At that point, the state had until Nov. 21 to file an appeal.
Koster’s office didn’t file a notice of appeal until Dec. 5.
The missed deadline was first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Monday evening.
Koster’s office says they missed the deadline because they were unaware that Beetem had dismissed their request for a new trial, noting that the dismissal was a single sentence at the end of Beetem’s Oct. 12 judgement.
“The brevity of the court’s denial of the motion for a new trial caused lead counsel to miss that portion of the entry, precipitating the late filing of this notice of appeal,” Koster’s office says in its filing with the Western District Court of Appeals.
Kerr’s attorney says any reasonable person who read the judge’s Oct. 12 ruling would have seen that the motion for a new trial was dismissed. Several media outlets also reported on the dismissal at the time.
Her attorneys say either the attorney general’s office didn’t read Beetem’s ruling at all or just didn’t read it closely enough to notice the motion for a new trial was dismissed. Either way, Kerr’s attorneys said, the state was negligent and should be barred from filing an appeal.
The $3.7 million Kerr could win is part of more than $16 million in damages juries have ordered the state to pay since 2014 related to discrimination and harassment lawsuits against various agencies in Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration. In the last four years, state agencies have been sued for discrimination more than 100 times.
Following an article in The Pitch focusing on discrimination and harassment lawsuits against the Department of Corrections, state Auditor Nicole Galloway announced her office would review the state’s Legal Expense Fund from which payments are made to settle lawsuits against the state.
The Missouri House has also vowed to look into the Legal Expense Fund.
Tuesday morning, House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, a Kansas City Democrat, released a letter she wrote to Gov.-elect Eric Greitens asking him to find a new corrections director to ensure the behavior detailed in The Pitch article is properly dealt with.