KANSAS CITY -- The city's finance and governance committee Wednesday approved spending $533,000 to settle discrimination and harassment lawsuits. The cost of these suits is surging for taxpayers. Before this action, the city already has spent more than $1 million to settle similar claims so far this year.
Many of the recent settlements are the result of the city changing from part-time municipal prosecutors to full-time positions. Eight of the former part timers sued the city for age, race or gender discrimination.
Two of the claims approved by the finance committee Wednesday were for former part-time prosecutors alleging discrimination because they weren't hired for the full-time jobs. The two payouts total $448,000.
Since last July, taxpayers have shelled out nearly $1.7 million to settle discrimination or retaliation complaints.
The big payouts are happening at a time when the city is struggling to find money for more street repairs or to hire more code enforcement officers.
"I think anybody in any corporation, in any government doesn't like taxpayers' dollars being put out for anything but road resurfacing," said Councilwoman Cindy Circo, a member of the committee. "But it's reality. We can't stop people from suing the city. We do our best. We put everything in place that we can to prevent any of this. But it's a large number of employees and we have to deal with what we have to deal with."
Circo says the city is working to try to prevent future discrimination suits by ensuring that managers and supervisors receive training and that policies and procedures are correct for hiring, firing and discipline.
Converting the municipal prosecutor's office to eight full-time attorneys instead of 16 part timers is supposed to save the city money on operation costs.
The finance committee Wednesday also agreed to pay a firefighter $85,000 after he sued, claiming that he worked in a racially hostile environment at the fire station at KCI Airport. He complained the harassment included racial slurs and physical threats by another firefighter.