Two Drug Enforcement Administration agents who sued the U.S. Attorney General and the Justice Department for reverse discrimination were awarded $7 million in damages by a federal jury last Friday.
But the agents will receive far less.
Compensatory damages for employment-discrimination claims against the feds are capped by law at $300,000 per plaintiff.
The jury found that the DEA through its supervisors had "intentionally discriminated" against George W. Marthers III and Jude T. McKenna by creating a hostile work environment because of their race.
Marthers and McKenna are white; their former supervisors, Dempsey Jones and Johnny Fisher, are black.
The jury also found that the supervisors retaliated against the agents after they filed an internal complaint with DEA in March 2002 and later with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The agents alleged that they had been constantly harassed, verbally and physically, and said that Fisher even had a black agent spy on them.
Both men later went out on sick leave in April 2002 due to work-related stress.
They were soon replaced in their positions and found to be unfit for duty by DEA's psychologists. (A subsequent re-evaluation in 2003 cleared the agents to return to work.)
Thomas Roth, the plaintiffs' lawyer, said that jurors had been "outraged" by the conduct of the supervisors.
"I also think the jury believed the DEA conducted a coverup," Roth said. "They investigated my clients' complaints and didn't do anything about it."
Colin Cherico, a governmentlawyer, had argued that Marthers and McKenna were "problem agents" who ran afoul of Jones and Fisher because they wouldn't comply with the new managers.
"We're obviously disappointed with the verdict, but the jury has spoken," said Cherico, adding that he may file some post-trial motions.
Marthers and McKenna are still employed by the DEA here, where they do financial investigations, Roth said.