EDWARDSVILLE — An increased verdict in a discrimination suit against the county’s treasurer is set to cost taxpayers more money.
A federal judge Monday ordered that a $450,000 verdict rendered against Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler in February be increased to include two years’ worth of lost salary and attorney fees for the plaintiff, bringing the new verdict to $658,898. That’s not including legal fees for the county, which in early March were approaching $200,000, Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said at the time.
A federal jury returned the verdict against Prenzler on Feb. 11 after it concluded the treasurer had terminated a former Treasurer’s Office employee, Linda Dunnagan, because of her disabling illness. Dunnagan, who in 2013 had her comptroller position terminated in what she said was an attempt by Prenzler to force her to leave her job, filed the suit in December 2014.
County officials had hoped a cap on the amount of damage an office can be ordered to pay could save the county from paying further damages, but that wasn’t the conclusion of federal District Judge Staci Yandle. Yandle also issued an injunction against Prenzler’s office that prohibits further violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
In a release Monday, Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan said Prenzler, who is running against Dunstan for county board chairman in November’s election, “trampled on the rights of this woman.
“There is no excuse for discriminating against any employee, much less a disabled employee,” Dunstan said in the release. “Mr. Prenzler owes this woman and Madison County taxpayers an apology for his discriminatory actions against a disabled employee. A jury has found him guilty of violating this woman’s rights and the taxpayers are going to have to pay the price for his bad judgment.”
Dunstan said the cost to the county will approach $1 million when all is said and done.
Prenzler vowed to appeal the original verdict in February, saying the decision to eliminate the comptroller position was for cost savings and not the result of discrimination, and he reasserted that position Tuesday.
“During my first three years, we eliminated four management positions as unnecessary. Three of these employees found other jobs in county government,” Prenzler said. “This restructuring was not done rashly, but with the advice of the county attorney.
“We offered Ms. Dunnagan a full-time management position in customer service, at $35,600 per year. She rejected this offer, retired, began to collect her pension, and sued the county, claiming a disability. She did not have a disability.
We have excellent grounds to appeal.”