HOUSTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Federal Judge Gregg Costa entered a judgment against Brazoria County in favor of Diana Coates and Margo Green, who were terminated in 2009 in retaliation for reporting Former Judge James Blackstock's sexual harassment, according to the Law Offices of Jacqueline Armstrong, who represented the women. After three years of litigation and more than $1 million in defense fees, Brazoria County ended this litigation on the eve of trial rather than face the evidence, which produced a $3.2 million judgment against Former Judge James Blackstock individually in July 2011, according to the Plaintiff’s Attorney Martin Shellist, who represented three other women in that prior case.
According to Brazoria County Case #3:10-CV-71, the investigation identified 19 victims between 1981 and 2008. Twelve of the women of which Blackstock sexually assaulted did provide sworn statements and testified to his conduct of a sexual and suggestive nature. Blackstock admitted in court documents to sending obscene video and pictures to women via County emails on County time and County computers.
The investigation into the lawsuit revealed additional complaints and established a course of conduct and pattern of County Officials protecting Blackstock’s sexual harassment. Before Coates and Green were fired, two other women were terminated for reporting Judge Blackstock and others were discouraged from coming forward, according to court documents.
Based on court documents, in February 2008, the Chief of the County’s Juvenile Justice Department Coates, reported Blackstock to Judges overseeing her department. She discovered that officials had known about his conduct for decades, including physical assault, a prior sexual harassment lawsuit settled in 1995, asking women for sex and lewd emails sent from Blackstock’s County computer, to her and her Assistant Chief, Green. Nothing was done until August 2008, when a juvenile probation officer reported assault by Blackstock to Coates and Green who then demanded action.
In addition, based on court documents, District Attorney Jerilyn Yenne entered a plea agreement reducing the initial charges filed by her office, recommending a fine of less than $2,000 and agreeing to erase Blackstock’s computer containing evidence needed by women for claims in civil lawsuits against the County. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) obtained a restraining order to stop the destruction of that evidence.
Coates and Green, along with six other women, filed charges with the EEOC, which determined that the County was responsible for the sexual harassment of all charging women, stated in their findings document: “evidence gathered during the investigation also indicates that County Supervisors, Judges and Staff have known for many years that Judge Blackstock had and continued to sexually harass female employees of Brazoria County. These supervisors and Judges shirked their responsibility to prevent and correct sexual harassment by Judge Blackstock in the workplace. They also failed to report for investigation any criminal conduct by Judge Blackstock of which they were aware and which negatively impacted female employees of the County.”
According to court documents, the judges of the Juvenile Board then began a course of retaliation against Coates and Green. On December 22, 2009, meeting minutes reflected that the Board voted unanimously to terminate them for “lack of confidence,” arising out of an allegation brought to them by the District Attorneys’ Office that Coates and Green had both tried to pressure another of Blackstock’s victims to drop her claims.
“This basis for termination at the end of December made no sense,” said Jacqueline Armstrong, attorney for Coates and Green. “The assertion that Ms. Coates and Ms. Green would act against their own best interests by encouraging a fellow complainant to drop her claims, and the fact that the Board would entertain these accusations is absurd. The only reason for their termination was retaliation.”
Coates and Green filed charges of retaliation with the EEOC, and according to a document of determination for each stated: “[b]ased on the weight of the evidence, the Commission concludes that the Charging Party was subjected to removal from her position and termination in retaliation for her charge filing activity and the aftermath of ongoing protected activity that followed her charge of discrimination.”
In July 2011, three other women went to trial against Blackstock resulting in a $3.2 million jury verdict. Calling out to the press as he was leaving the courthouse, a juror said, “Brazoria County needs to clean house,” reported in a story by The Brazoria County Facts.
Armstrong added, “Coates and Green endured three years of hard fought litigation to not only recover financial damages but to recover their reputations. A judgment was achieved when the County offered to accept a judgment against it in the amount of $850,000 - $425,000 for each plaintiff. Under a rule of federal procedure, had the jury returned a verdict less than that amount, plaintiffs would have been obligated to pay the County’s attorneys’ fees and costs from the date of the offer. Coates and Green believed that offering this amount is an admission and an apology that restores their reputations.”
Green said: “I want to be clear that this was never about taking the County to court to get a lot of money. They took something from me that I can’t put a monetary value to. I would have wanted the conduct of several county officials to be exposed in trial, but I realized that doing so would reopen the wounds of many innocent bystanders and other victims. Perhaps an examination of that conduct will come out in other ways; I hope so.”
Coates added: “The County failed to appreciate the damage done to women who are targeted with sexual harassment. It’s a harmful and distressing experience: to be told by a powerful judge that he’s going to continue violating your person and that no one will believe any cries for help. Well, this case identified 19 women who all told the same story going back to 1983. It’s outrageous that County officials who knew about James Blackstock’s behavior for decades didn’t do all they could to protect their female employees.”
Coates and Green recently settled with Blackstock for an undisclosed amount in a civil suit, said Armstrong.
Green is employed as the Regional Supervisor for the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole. Coates is the President of a software company providing services to Juvenile Justice entities throughout the country.
Houston Civil Rights Attorney Jacqueline Armstrong, represented the plaintiffs, and added fellow Civil Rights Lawyer Thomas Padgett and Iain Simpson, appellate specialist, to her team for trial.