Jury awards demoted Mpls firefighter $420K

A federal jury Thursday awarded a demoted Minneapolis firefighter $420,000, plus attorneys' fees yet to be determined.

Capt. Jean Kidd says in 2009 then-fire chief Alex Jackson unfairly removed her from the rank of deputy chief. Kidd alleged that the demotion cost her tens of thousands of dollars in lost salary and benefits as well as emotional distress.

The jury of seven men and five women ordered the city of Minneapolis not only to repay her for that, but tacked on $300,000 for punitive damages.

Jackson claimed that his decision to demote Kidd was based on his assessment that she was hard to work with. However, Jackson's decision came after Kidd wrote an anonymous, negative evaluation of Jackson's performance.

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Kidd's attorney, John Klassen, said Jackson's decision to demote Kidd was motivated by vengeance and violated his client's First Amendment rights.

Klassen said the amount of the judgment is significant.

"There just aren't all that many First Amendment retaliation cases that ever get to trial," Klassen said. "They're difficult claims."

Klassen also estimates attorneys fees will likely push the total judgment to more than $500,000 — his firm has spent two and a half years preparing the case.

Minneapolis city attorney Susan Segal said while she respects the jury process, she is disappointed with the verdict and that the city is considering an appeal.

"Jurors form their impressions from courtroom testimony years after the fact," read a statement from Segal. "We believe that our former Chief acted in good faith. There are some legal issues with the verdict we are reviewing and we will be looking at bringing forward those issues to the court in post-trial motions."

During the trial's opening remarks, assistant city attorney Andrea Naef said Jackson removed Kidd as deputy chief because her energetic style clashed with Jackson's more laid-back management approach. And she said Jackson was not upset by Kidd's criticism — but did find Kidd "difficult to work with."

Although the judgment was against then-fire chief Alex Jackson, the city of Minneapolis is on the hook for the $420,000 judgment plus attorney fees. It is not the first time a city fire chief's legal troubles have cost the city. In 2006, the city settled several sexual harassment lawsuits involving fire chief Bonnie Bleskachek. The suits, a city investigation and paid leave for Bleskachek tallied more than $400,000.