Metro-East News

Madison County appeals $1 million discrimination suit

Madison County is appealing the Dunnagan suit again, with up to $1 million at stake.

In 2014, former comptroller Linda Dunnagan sued County Chairman Kurt Prenzler, who was then the county treasurer, for discrimination, alleging that she was pressured to quit after she returned to work following a life-threatening illness. After she declined to resign or take a lower-paying job, Prenzler eliminated her position.

Dunnagan then sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act in federal court. The jury sided with Dunnagan, awarding compensatory damages of $450,000. The judge later added Dunnagan’s lost wages and legal expenses to the county’s bill, bringing it up to $660,000. The county’s legal fees brought it up to approximately $1 million. The judge also issued an injunction ordering Prenzler not to continue any further discriminatory action.

Prenzler has maintained that Dunnagan’s job was eliminated as a cost-saving measure and has declined to settle throughout the process. On Wednesday, he confirmed that his intention is to pursue the appeal. “We believe this is the best course of action at this point,” he said. He declined to comment further.

Correspondence obtained via the Freedom of Information Act detailed multiple offers to settle the suit both before and after the jury’s verdict, as well as a mediation before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in which settlement was recommended. At that point, Dunnagan’s attorney, Lee Barron, offered to settle the case for $60,000, according to his correspondence with county attorneys. Several other offers were made over the ensuing months, with the cost rising each time.

An appeal could not be filed until post-trial motions were heard and the final orders from the judge came through, which happened in June, according to county attorney John Gilbert. The county’s appeal was filed with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on July 5.

Since then, there has been mediation, but Gilbert said he could not disclose what was discussed. “It’s all within the mediation umbrella,” he said.

However, briefs and replies are due to the court in November if mediation fails. Gilbert acknowledged the price would then keep going up. “If we prosecute the appeal and we are not successful, their side would be entitled to further attorney’s fees,” he said.

Dunnagan’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald