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New Haven 20 Win $2M+; Lawyers Win $3M

by Paul Bass and Thomas MacMillan | Jul 28, 2011 1:19 pm

(30) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Melissa Bailey File Photo (Updated 4 p.m.) New Haven will pay millions in cash and extra pension benefits to firefighters who took a bias claim to the Supreme Court—and pay $3 million to the firefighters’ lawyers.

That information is contained in notices filed Wednesday in the Ricci v. DeStefano case in New Haven U.S. District Court.

Judge Janet Bond Arterton has been reconsidering the case after the Supreme Court overturned her decision to toss out the suit.

The 20 firefighters filed suit after the city threw out results from a 2004 promotional exam for captain and lieutenant. The firefighters argued that the city was unfairly favoring African-Americans; the city argued it was following established past practice.

The firefighters’ legal team, led by Karen Lee Torre, got $3 million in the arrangement filed in court this week.

Melissa Bailey File Photo“We’re all pleased. If we weren’t pleased we wouldn’t have done it. The terms are reasonable, acceptable,” Torre said in a phone conversation Thursday afternoon.

The firefighters themselves will get varying amounts of cash out of the $2 million total. On top of that, 18 of the 20 firefighters will have three years of service added toward their pensions; it’s believed that the worth of that extra provision could add $2 million to $3 million to the city’s cost in the future.

Ricci said he’s “elated” that the case is over.

“I think I can speak for the 20 of us when I say that ourselves and our families are happy that we can put this behind us and move back to the business of protecting the citizens of our great city,” he said in an interview. He said his 12-year-old son was 5 when the case began. Asked how he plans to celebrate, he said, “I’m going to work tonight.”

All 20 plaintiffs approved the agreement. They are: Michael Blatchley, Gregory Boivin, Gary Carbone, Michael Christoforo, Ryan Divito, Steven Durand, William Gambardella, Brian Jooss, James Kottage, Mathew Marcarelli, Thomas Michaels, Christopher Parker, Sean Patton, Frank Ricci, Edward Riordon, Kevin Roxbee, Timothy Scanlon, Benjamin Vargas, John Vendetto and Mark Vendetto. 

Brian Jooss, for instance, will be paid $108,671 in cash and additional benefits. Click here to read the deal he agreed to.

James Kottage (the current union president), on the other hand, got only $27,266.85.

Melissa Bailey File PhotoNineteen of the firefighters are white. One, Benjamin Vargas, is Hispanic. His settlement: $135,632.79.

Melissa Bailey PhotoFrank Ricci himself, the named plaintiff in the case and the public face of the crew to the nation, picked up $125,518.99. Click here to read the breakdown from his settlement. Ricci testified about the case before the Senate Judiciary Committee when it was considering the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Click here to read Melissa Bailey’s account of that day.)

The Ricci case became a national lightning rod for the debate over affirmative action; the split decision reflected a move by the court to undo decades of affirmative action law and consider more sympathetically arguments of “reverse discrimination” by whites. At the center of the case was how to interpret Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

While the city was calling this week’s filings a “settlement,” Torre said that’s technically not the appropriate word, since the city offered to “take judgment” on all the claims the plaintiffs made, she said. Besides the Title VII question settled by the Supreme Court, other claims—such as conspiracy to violate the firefighters’ civil rights—remained outstanding. Until Thursday.

By offering this judgment, the city in effect accepted guilt on all claims and put forward an offer of what it was willing to pay—so that the case could end once and for all. And the plaintiffs all agreed to the terms the city proposed.

The DeStefano administration released a statement which said, in part: “The settlement allows the City to move forward and avoid the cost and uncertainty of further litigation that had been scheduled to commence in Federal District Court later this summer. The obligations will be paid for from the city’s budgeted public liability account funds, already reserved in fund balance for this case and insurance proceeds.”

In other words, the city is self-insured for lawsuits. And the high expected cost of outstanding lawsuits raised the concern of Moody’s Investor Services recently; it cited the precarious future of the public liability account when it downgraded to “negative” its “outlook” on city government’s finances.

The city release quoted Mayor John DeStefano as saying: ““In addition to recognizing that this resolution allows the city to move forward, I want to acknowledge the work of the New Haven firefighters who never allowed this debate to affect their performance on the fire grounds, or, with one another.  Their service to the people of New Haven and to their units has been and remains, exemplary.”

Ricci noted that three African-American and two Hispanic firefighters were promoted along with members of the New Haven 20. “So it proves that no race has the corner on merit,” he said. “If you work hard you can succeed.” When people call 911 for a fire, they don’t care what the responding firefighters look like, just that they do their job, Ricci said.

“Fiscally Prudent”

Victor Bolden, the city’s corporation counsel, said the city last Wednesday made 21 individualized “offers of judgment”—20 to the plaintiffs and one to address the legal fees. Those offers were accepted this Wednesday, thus settling the case, Bolden said.

Bolden said the offers of judgment were designed to meet three goals: place a value on the claims made by the plaintiffs, bring the case to an end, and do so in a “fiscally prudent” manner. He said the resolution hit all three objectives.

He offered a breakdown of the city’s offers to the New Haven 20. The plaintiffs were separated into three groups—the 14 who were promoted in 2009, four who were not promoted but had passed the exam, and two who had not passed the exam.

The 14 who were promoted in 2009 were offered lump sums of back pay, adjusted for the tax implications of receiving the money all at once. They were also offered about $75,000 each for “other monetary claims,” including claims of “mental anguish and emotional distress.” And they were offered three years of service towards their future pensions.

The four in the second group were offered the three years of service and about $50,000 each in other monetary claims, but no back pay. And the final two were offered only about $25,000 each.

Now that the offers have been accepted, the city has to pay them. Bolden said the pay-out is to be split over two years, with 40 percent doled out by the end of August and the remaining $3 million paid in August 2012.

The $2 million to be paid next month is “already part of a line item” called the “public liability fund” in this year’s city budget, Bolden said. Some money, “a couple hundred thousand dollars,” will come out of the “public official insurance liability fund,” Bolden said. That’s money from a city insurer, not taxpayer dollars.

As for next year’s payment, “We’ll address it within the context of the budget next year,” Bolden said.

Asked about concerns that the new payments might worsen the city’s already declining bond rating outlook, Bolden said they will, on the contrary, have short and long term benefits. Ratings agencies like to know what they’re dealing with, and knowing now how much the city will owe—rather than having an unspecified amount of Ricci damages looming—might actually help the city’s rating outlook, Bolden said. “It will remove uncertainty.”

The city also faces future financial threat from ballooning pension and health care payments to city workers, the mayor has said. Asked about the pension portion of the Ricci settlement, Bolden said it will not break the budget.

The pension implications were calculated with the help of actuaries, Bolden said. He said the city will be on the hook for approximately an additional $90,000 to $99,000 per year in payments to the firefighter pension fund going forward. He characterized that as “an incredibly small percentage of the pension fund” and an even smaller piece of the city’s overall budget.

“This isn’t a budget buster,” he said.

The settlement of the Ricci case presented a “once in a lifetime” problem for the city, Bolden said. He said the city decided to make pension adjustments a part of the offers of judgment in order to make the offers more appealing to the plaintiffs. “We thought it might make a difference.”

“This wasn’t political,” he said. “This was a lawyer-driven thing.” The question was how to add value to the offers “in a fiscally responsible way.”

In a press statement released Thursday, mayoral contender Jeffrey Kerekes called the deal “yet another blow to New Haven taxpayers,” and an emblem of the city’s “chronic mismanagement.”

“This city’s inexcusable decision to deny the earned promotions is a poor as the choice to run up the legal bills fighting for the original bad decision,” Kerekes charged.

Lawyers’ Share

Attorney David Rosen, a local civil rights lawyer who represented a black firefighter who attempted to intervene in the Ricci case, said he wasn’t surprised the legal fees amounted to more than the cash settlement paid to the plaintiffs. (It amounted to far less once the future pension payouts are factored in.)

“The attorney’s fees were based on a huge amount of work being done for many years by not only attorney Torre but also by another law firm that handled the case in the United States Supreme Court,” Rosen said. “I’ve no information about how much time they spent or what they’re legal rates are, but for a case of that magnitude and that length and that effort I’m not surprised the legal fees are that high.”

Legal fees and damages are “apples and oranges,” Rosen said. The plaintiffs are entitled to reimbursement based on lost salary, while the attorneys’ fees represent legal work done over the course of the case.

“It’s not a big surprise that the legal fees are higher than the amount the plaintiffs got,” Rosen said. “It’s just a case of how much legal work was done.” In the Ricci case, there was a “whole lot of legal work.”

Rosen congratulated the lawyers and the plaintiffs on their victory. “I tip my hat to them.”

Steven D. Ecker, a private lawyer who worked on the case for the city, said that based on his understanding, Torre accepted less she might have been entitled to in fees based on the thousands of hours she put into the case.

Past stories on fire department promotions and the Ricci case:

Arterton Asks 2nd Judge To Look At Ricci Conflict Claim
Torre Blasts Ricci Judge For Consorting With “Feminists”
Judge Swings Back; Ricci Case Stalls
“Tinney Intervenors” Step Down In Ricci Case
Ricci Victors Seek Damages
After 6-Year Battle, Firefighters Get Badges
•  Ricci Case’s “Tinney Intervenors” Try Again
•  10 More Firefighters Promoted
•  Judge Blocks Black Firefighters’ Move
•  Board Promotes 14 Firefighters
•  Judge Orders Firefighter Promotions
•  Black Firefighters Seek To Halt Promotions
•  Promotions Pitched In Ricci Case
Ricci’s Back In Court
After Ricci Ruling, Black Firefighter Sues City
Ricci Takes The Stand
In D.C., Two Latino Views On Sotomayor
Dems Swing Back On Ricci
ConnectiCOSH Kibosh
Sotomayor: I Didn’t “Hide” Ricci Case
Is Ricci Being Smeared?
Sotomayor Speaks On Ricci
Ricci Takes Center Stage
Watley: I’d Have Promoted Ricci
Firebirds, NAACP: Ricci Won’t Stop Us
“If You Work Hard You Can Succeed In America”
Was He The Culprit?
Supreme Court Overturns City On Ricci
On Page 25, A Hint
Minority Firefighters Vow Post-Ricci Unity
Ricci Ruling Won’t End Quest
Ricci, Sotomayor Brand DeStefano
Firefighter Case Reveals Surprise Obama Stand
Justices Zero In On Race-Based Distinctions
Rights Groups Back Black Firefighters
The Supreme Stakes: Title VII’s Future
Dobbs v. Bolden
Latino Group Backs White Firefighters
Black Firefighters: Ricci Case Poses Grave Threat
NAACP Backs City In Firefighter Case
Paging Justice Kennedy
Fire Inspectors Promoted
Fire Inspector List Approved
U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Firefighters’ Case
Fire Promotions Examined in Supreme Court

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posted by: justdoright on July 28, 2011  12:20pm

Now the residents of New Haven have to once again foot the bill for the ignorant decision of Mayor DeStefano.

Please vote this ... out of office.

posted by: westville man on July 28, 2011  1:19pm

Great Country America. After decades of blatant discrimination against Black firefighters by white firefighters and their union, a perceived discrimination against white ones ends up settling for millions…and Torre, who trash-talked Black fire fighters the whole way through, becomes an instant millionaire. I guess reparations goes only 1 way here in the US..

posted by: Poor House on July 28, 2011  1:41pm

More money flowing to the suburbs…

Out of the 20 firefighters, how many live in New Haven? Three, four, maybe five?

posted by: Poor House on July 28, 2011  2:02pm

In fact, do any of the 20 actually reside in New Haven?

According to the Yellow Pages:

Blatchley—North Haven
Boivin—Shelton
Carbone—Madison
Christoforo—North Haven
Divito—East Haven
Durand—Branford
Jooss—North Haven
Kottage—North Haven or Madison
Marcarelli—Northford
Michaels—Middletown
Patton—East Haven
Roxbee—Guilford
Scanlon—Hamden?
JVendetto—North Haven

Too many duplicates for:
Gambardella
Parker
Ricci
Riordon
Vargas
MVendetto

posted by: Walt on July 28, 2011  2:06pm

Good for them.


they deserve it.

Happy that I tossed in a few bucks toward their efforts

posted by: unReal on July 28, 2011  2:19pm

Really NHI?? Are you still sticking to the line that “...The city threw out the test after only two nonwhite candidates passed it…”??  You then go on to quote “..Ricci noted that three African-American and two Hispanic firefighters were promoted along with members of the New Haven 20.

How is that possible if only two nonwhite candidates passed??  Oh wait, because that “fact” was proven to be false YEARS AGO.

Why do you continue to perpetuate that lie? Please correct your article to represent the facts.

posted by: Another Victim of Reverse dsicrimination on July 28, 2011  2:19pm

I know you won’t publish Paul but it needs to be said—-

And What did Karen Dubois Walton, the decision maker,, get that was the source of the decision that led to the discrimination- a six figure a year job without public housing experience and another chance to carry out the mayor’s wishes. 

.... I guess 23 million dollars is not enough money to learn a lesson.  I guess as long as you run the mayor’s campaign its enough.

posted by: Bill Saunders on July 28, 2011  2:20pm

Just remember People— Boise Kimber has come out in support of Tony Dawson for Mayor, so scratch that candidate right off of your list!

And Poor House—does it really matter that money flowed to the suburbs.  The problem is the payment, not where it goes…..

posted by: ProBono on July 28, 2011  2:37pm

Sickening.
The firefighters could just have walked away with the courts fixing the problem…but nooooo!
...  firemen had to go for the dough.
The city just issued bonds,thank goodness,so they can piss away $$$$$ with ease.
And New Haven will continue to be a third world,welfare-based,city.With a University.

posted by: Tom on July 28, 2011  2:57pm

In my opinion, as a taxpayer, resident and homeowner, there should be a residency requirement for hiring and promotion in all municipal jobs.  I want the tax dollars coming back into the city and the employees fully invested through residents.

Board of Aldermen, wake up and get it done!

posted by: Goatville on July 28, 2011  3:07pm

Congratulations New Haven 20!
I recognize several of these names and although they may not currently live in New Haven their families have for decades. These particular firemen went through the New Haven Public School system and lived in New Haven well into their 20’s.

posted by: Blame the Mayor on July 28, 2011  3:07pm

Please don’t forget that we (the TAXPAYERS)have been paying for the defense attorneys fees also. We will probably never know the true cost of these fees but if Torre’s fees are in the millions I am sure we have spent that much too.

VOTE HIM OUT!

posted by: Truth Be Told on July 28, 2011  3:20pm

Wait! Kottage gets paid for FAILING the test?!? He gets $27,000 for failing a test?

The irony here is DeStefano sees minorities fail to pass the test in high numbers, the city decides not to certify the test in the name of TITLE VII, white firefighters sue, they lose, it goes to Supreme Court and Court changes settled law for the past 30-years.  City settles for millions and taxpayers give guys that cannot pass tests chunks of change.

Here is the butt kicker.  DeStefano then gets not one, not two, but three African-American challengers. And no one is the Black community standing up saying he did the right thing. 

I wonder who is going to stand up for that community in the future? And more importantly, why would they?

posted by: anon on July 28, 2011  3:44pm

3 million reasons for Torre to get the stick ....

“Ricci noted that three African-American and two Hispanic firefighters were promoted along with members of the New Haven 20. “So it proves that no race has the corner on merit,” he said. “If you work hard you can succeed.” When people call 911 for a fire, they don’t care what the responding firefighters look like, just that they do their job, Ricci said.”

Ricci sounds like a stand-up kinda guy.

posted by: VD on July 28, 2011  4:23pm

Just remember People— Boise Kimber has come out in support of Tony Dawson for Mayor, so scratch that candidate right off of your list!

^^thank you for that information- that’s helpful.

posted by: Get Real on July 28, 2011  4:34pm

Don’t complain about the corrupt New Haven political system—complain about firefighters that don’t live in New Haven; firefighters that were screwed who won their rightfully earned promotions; The Supreme Court who followed the actual law, not the perverted version that liberal lower-court judges have mutilated to give all minority classes (not white males) an unfair twist—Title VII is for “ALL,” not just minorities. 
And you wonder why New Haven has such problems? Apparently it is because its citizens are focused on the “effect,” rather than the “cause.” Change your politicians, their morals, and their back-door conspiring, and you will have a city you will become proud of.

posted by: Ora on July 28, 2011  5:27pm

Mayor D thanks for the memories! Maybe we should (the taxpayers) file a class action against you for negligence…!

posted by: Willie Williams Jr on July 28, 2011  6:07pm

What Happened To: Preparation, Trainning and Education?

posted by: Charlie O'Keefe on July 28, 2011  7:30pm

I would like to congratulate Attorney Bolden negotiating enhanced pensions as part of the settlement. As the pension funds are underfunded, this means the firefighters will be asked to make greater contributions soon, so they will be partly paying for their own settlement. If I’m correct, the firefighters and the police have the same pension plan, so the cops will be paying too. Very astute, and thank you for giving a little back to the long suffering taxpayers in what can only be described as an episode of unparalleled stupidity on the part of the DeStefano administration.

posted by: just for a laugh on July 28, 2011  11:01pm

Hey guys i just read that there is a town in South Dakota for sale for $800,000 dollars. Pool your money and you can own the fire department.You still can have 1.2 million left to put destefano in the mayors seat where he can make more wonderful decisions and you can all live happily ever after. My new question is how does the rest of the department get nothing on their pension and wont it change seniority and pension position-I smell another law suit coming from the rest of the firefighters who have “actual work time on the books ” They just got screwed by the New Haven Twenty.Their fellow firefighters.No one has said a thing about that.The same firefighters who supported these ...Enjoy your new found wealth at taxpayers expense.What goes around comes around.Oh and one last thing what about the guy’s who were putting in false time sheets? I heard that it got crushed before it hit the papers and even a few of them got promoted to higher positions to reward greed.Maybe a investigation is in order for all these so called snow whites.That is not a racist remark,they’re just not as clean as the driven snow and YOU ALL KNOW WHO YOU ARE DONT YOU!

posted by: Just the facts on July 29, 2011  1:50am

Congratulations to all of them. I believe they were all fairly compensated for the ordeal. This shows that America still stands by the quintessential phrase “best man for the job” when it comes to promotions. It also forces the city to stop its reverse discrimination practices, which appear to be common. However, I don’t understand the term “reverse discrimination” since discrimination doesn’t apply to any one particular group.

posted by: Noteworthy on July 29, 2011  6:48am

This is not about payments to the firefighters. It is about the stunningly poor management practices of Mayor DeStefano which once again are costing taxpayers millions and millions of dollars. From the downtown fire to the police department to the fire department, his twisted view of mixing politics and policy are having a major negative impact on this city and its taxpayers.

It is never right to discriminate against anybody for any reason. To do so for political calculations, as given special note in the U.S. Supreme Court decision, is a testament to 18 years of this kind of “leadership.” There is an opportunity to dump this mayor. There are now 5 million more reasons to do so. If we don’t, this story will be repeated time and again and we’ll have to listen to another diatribe of how it is the fault of somebody else.

posted by: westville man on July 29, 2011  8:24am

My question for the white firefighters, their brothers, fathers & uncles who were on the force is this: Where was your keen sense of fairness over the past 40 years of discrimination against Black firefighters?? Oh yeah, that’s right-fighting AGAINST them….
This case only proves one thing: Whites will believe that Blacks are not qualified (didn’t study, lazy, etc) BEFORE we believe that a “weighted” test was biased. Same story line, 100 years later….

posted by: anon on July 29, 2011  9:13am

“America still stands by the quintessential phrase “best man for the job” when it comes to promotions.”

Thanks for that nugget Pollyanna! Take race out of the equation and not a single person believes that ...

posted by: Observer on July 29, 2011  12:11pm

i am a person of color, have nothing to do with the city, and no axe to grind with firefighters in particular.  If Blacks and Latinos cannot pass the exam in decent numbers, I think it merits looking at the test to make sure there is nothing strange there.  If the test is deemed to be appropriate and it tests the applicant on their knolwdge of firefighting technologies, techniques, regulations, etc., then we need to look at the people who are taking the test and look at other possible reasons they are not passing.  Including the possibility they are not studying hard enough, or are not sufficiently experienced.  By going to this political pandering that DeStefano did, it undermines the credibility of every person of color who can pass the test and calls into question their qualifications.  Perhaps it was or perhaps not, but from my view the test should have been all about making sure there is an equal playing field.  After that, let the results speak for themselves. I think most people of color understand that—we don’t want handouts, just equal opportunity. Granted, there are some of us who beleive Affirmative Action to be about quotas and making space for incompetence under the guise of “equity”.  Most of us know the difference.

posted by: just for a laugh on July 29, 2011  5:58pm

To the last poster,observer you make a valid point but since this city is run on friend of a friend politics and the good old boy standard nothing and I MEAN NOTHING WILL EVER BE DONE FAIR OR HONEST UNTIL WE GET HIM, DESTEFANO AND HIS POLITCAL HACKS OUT OF HERE AND WE HAVE A CHANCE FOR THAT THIS NOVEMBER IF ONLY THE GOOD PEOPLE OF NEW HAVEN STAND UP AND MAKE A CHANGE- It can’t get any worse.When you have a snake make a change from union president to asst. chief and he has no qualifications what so ever to do the job it just shows the tip of the iceberg here in the city. He sold out his own for power and position and the same guy who made money off of union dues is now making policy and he does not even know what he is doing. The firefighters won their case all well and good but the taxpayers are paying for it don’t let bolden tell you different.There is other testing that is going to take place because of retirements.And the firefighters that left made sure they got their’s and left the scraps for the rest who are remaining once again nice job fellows for thinking of the others. Selfishness and greed will always a big part of the job.

posted by: Republican on July 29, 2011  9:25pm

New Haven 20 You Rock

This is not just a civil service issue. I’m watching American industries being extorted by special interest groups all over the country. White male owned businesses cannot do business with large corporations without going through some minority middle man. Hiring and promotion quotas are everywhere.

posted by: Anon on July 29, 2011  9:26pm

Wow!! great payday now go back to the firehouse and wash your personal cars with city water on city time.

posted by: Richard McClure on July 29, 2011  9:31pm

I regularly think the Independent provides the best news coverage in town. This story has disappointed me, and I think the Register has given a better indication to what is going down. These two issues were not covered by the Independent.

The suit was scheduled to continue, but was settled now, as this allegedly saves the city money. I doubt it. If the case had gone on it would have come up in the middle of election season. It would have been a much bigger embarrassment then. My gut feeling is the taxpayers have had to pay more than they need as it was expedient, and in the interests of the incumbent DeStefano administration.

The Register also states that DeStefano was out of town when they tried to contact him for comment. I am not surprised at this. He really should face the press and voters on this. I think his absence is an admission of guilt that he has cost taxpayers at least $5 million.

posted by: nero on July 30, 2011  1:19pm

“Nineteen of the firefighters are white. One, Benjamin Vargas, is Hispanic.”

“Hispanic” is an ethnicity. Hispanics can be members of the white or black race.

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