A Missouri appeals court upheld a $4.85 million racial discrimination award to a white teacher who was fired from Harris-Stowe State University, an historically black college.
A trial jury awarded Elizabeth Wilkins $1.35 million in compensatory damages and $3.5 million in punitive damages on her claim that she was fired in favor of less senior black teachers. She also claimed Dr. Latisha Smith, the temporary co-chair for Harris-Stowe’s Teacher Education Department, repeatedly proclaimed her belief in “black power” in emails.
Harris-Stowe’s defense was crippled by the fact that it deleted emails in Smith’s account, in violation of a court order.
“During discovery, the trial court ordered the Board [of Regents] to preserve Dr. Smith’s email account,” Judge Kurt Odenwald wrote for the three-judge panel.
“In violation of the order, the Board deleted Dr. Smith’s email account. Because of this violation, the trial court ruled, as a sanction, that the following allegations were deemed admitted: Dr. Smith’s email account contained statements expressing her desire to make the Teacher Education Department ‘blacker’ and that she recommended terminating Wilkins’s employment.”
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