By Kathi Bliss
It took three days of testimony and two days of deliberation for a jury to decide that former Caldwell County Jailer Katharina Harper was entitled to a cash award after claims that she was discriminated against and eventually “wrongfully terminated” from her job at the Caldwell County Jail.
Harper, who was dishonorably discharged from the Caldwell County Jail in 2009, claimed in her lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, that she was discriminated against because of a disability, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and that she had been improperly disciplined after reporting inappropriate behavior from two other jailers. Though the jury found in Harper’s favor with regard to the wrongful termination, they found that there was no improper discipline or discrimination, the Austin-American Statesman reported last week.
The events leading up to Harper’s termination and eventual lawsuit began when she reported having seen a male correction officer groping a female officer in the control room. She made a report of the inappropriate behavior to a supervisor, who interviewed both of the other officers.
They both denied the claim, and surveillance videos of the control room neither supported nor refuted Harper’s claim. Both officers were disciplined in connection with the report.
The trouble began when supervisors pulled the two officers in for a second interview, and Harper demanded to be involved, testimony last week suggested. Harper’s actions at that time, including kicking the control room door and crying, led her supervisors to discipline her, as well; she appealed the disciplinary action, suggesting that she had acted appropriately, and then opted to take a medical leave rather than returning from a three-day suspension.
At that time, Harper revealed to her supervisors that she was receiving treatment for ADHD, and said the Caldwell County Jail was not making proper allowances for her disability. Prior to then, jail officials claimed, they did not know that Harper had a disability, nor that she suffered from ADHD, because she had not indicated the condition on her application form, and in fact said that she was not receiving treatment for any condition.
Though she testified that she was not taking medication at the time she filled out the application and was employed by the jail, one of Harper’s doctors had earlier informed jail officials that he had begun treating her as early as 2005, well before she began working for Caldwell County.
Prior to filing her case in Federal Court, Harper had filed complaints with both the Texas Workforce Commission and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, both of which dismissed her claims.
Testimony in the case wrapped on Wednesday afternoon, and the jury needed two full days to sort through the evidence and witness statements, finally returning with a verdict on Friday afternoon. They granted Harper a sum of $45,000, a combination of compensatory and punitive damages. They also granted her attorney Parker attorney’s fees, which he claims are $80,000.
Caldwell County Civil Attorney Mack Harrison told the Commissioners Court on Monday morning when discussing the outcome of the case that the bulk of the $45,000 judgment is covered by the county’s insurance coverage with the Texas Association of Counties, but that coverage will not help offset attorney’s fees payable to Parker. However, he said, the county’s legal team intends to try to reduce those fees, suggesting the amount should be substantially less.
It will be 30 days before the final judgment is entered.
Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel Law said until the final judgment is entered, he is unable to comment on the case or the award, except to say the lawsuit triggered a change in some policies at the jail, including the inclusion of Human Resources Director Deborah Kortan in disciplinary proceedings at the jail.