POSTED: Monday, December 27, 2010 - 8:10pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - 9:50am
A jury thinks a former El Paso Electric employee deserves $5.8 million after he was fired. The reason, he says, was discrimination. But it may not be the end to this dispute.
"They lied, they denied, and then they attacked," said attorney John Wenke. He represents Mark Duncan, who was a benefits supervisor for El Paso Electric until a confrontation in December of 2007.
"The human resources manager went into his office and basically had a meltdown, and threatened to kill him," Wenke said. He says Duncan did nothing wrong, and was a victim of workplace violence.
"He took a couple of days off, came back to work, and was given a termination notice," Wenke said.
EP Electric said Duncan was fired because he escalated the incident when he asked security to escort the threatening employee outside. Wenke says Duncan, who is white, was fired, because the company was afraid the employee who had the outburst, who is hispanic, would file a discrimination lawsuit.
"What they tried to do is use Mark Duncan's race as a defense and invited a second lawsuit," Wenke said.
An EP Electric supervisor also said in a sworn statement she didn't think Duncan did anything wrong and shouldn't be terminated.
But when the employee who had the outburst made a discrimination complaint, El Paso Electric responded by saying that discrimination complaint was unfounded because Duncan, white, was terminated for the same incident and the decision was made by a hispanic supervisor.
"They thought it was in their best interest to terminate the white guy as well," Wenke said.
A jury just decided to award Duncan$5.8 million, and although a judge will probably decrease the pay out, Wenke says Duncan just wanted his name cleared.
But El Paso Electric stands by its discipline and says the jury came to its decision based off incomplete and one-sided evidence.
In a statement, El Paso Electric said, "We are obviously disappointed in the verdict, which hurts not only El Paso Electric, but the entire El Paso community. Neither race nor national origin played any role whatsoever in our decision-making."
They plan to appeal - something that doesn't worry Wenke.
"An appeal is not going to create any new evidence, it's not going to change what they did in this particular case," Wenke said.
El Paso Electric says they've been in El Paso for over 100 years and that they provide jobs for almost 1,000 people.