A lawyer in the Denton County District Attorney’s Office won a federal racial discrimination suit against the county Thursday and was awarded a little more than $500,000 plus attorneys’ fees.
Denton lawyer Bill Trantham, who represents Nadiya Williams-Boldware, filed the suit Dec. 1, 2009, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Sherman.
The suit alleged that felony prosecutor Cary Piel made racially insulting remarks in Boldware’s presence; that his wife, Susan Piel, who was Boldware’s supervisor in the misdemeanor crimes section of the office, did not protect Boldware from having to hear those remarks; and that Ryan Calvert, Susan Piel’s brother and another prosecutor with the district attorney’s office, made remarks later that harassed Boldware and contributed to a hostile work environment.
“Justice got done,” Trantham said in a telephone interview Thursday night. “Cary said those things in the harshest possible way. Granted, the DA moved on it quick. They told Tom Whitlock [chief of felony prosecutors at the time] to get in the middle of that guy and he did. Cary confessed the whole thing, and they sent him to school [sensitivity training]. But the county human resources didn’t do a thing to help her.”
First Assistant District Attorney Jamie Beck, who acts as spokeswoman for District Attorney Paul Johnson, declined to comment until county commissioners had been briefed on the suit.
Denton County Judge Mary Horn said that commissioners would discuss the lawsuit and its outcome Tuesday during executive session.
She could not say whether there would be an appeal before that, she said.
“Until we’ve talked about it, I really can’t comment on it,” Horn said.
Trantham said the close relationship of the married Piels and her brother contributed to the problem.
“Everybody likes Susan. Nadiya likes her and didn’t want to hurt her,” Trantham said. “They had these conflicts in that office. They can’t discipline one without hurting the other. The Piels have won some high-profile cases and got some good publicity for the district attorney. Cary is a good trial lawyer, but he’s rude and doesn’t care what he says. Being the boss of a bunch of lawyers is like trying to herd cats.”
The Piels were the prosecutors who won murder convictions against former Denton police Officer Bobby Lozano in 2009 and Charles Stobaugh of Sanger in 2011 in connection with the deaths of their wives.
Trantham said the county spent $250,000 defending the suit. County officials hired Dallas lawyer Thomas Brandt, who specializes in federal civil rights law, instead of using in-house lawyers. In addition to the $510,000 award from the jury, the county must pay the fees of Trantham and Chris Raesz, who also tried the case.
“I think we’re looking at fees of about $100,000 each,” he said. “This is going to be a million-dollar hit for the county.”
Piel made the offending remarks while discussing a case he was prosecuting in April 2009 involving a black woman who had drunkenly driven her car through a cemetery, destroying numerous gravestones. She fought with arresting officers and made racially insulting remarks to them, and this was caught on a police video that Piel had just reviewed when he made his remarks in Boldware’s office.
Piel said he was enraged by what he saw on the tape. He said it made him “understand why people hung people from trees,” and that it made him “want to go home and put on his white pointy hat.”
Cary Piel testified at the trial, which began Monday with jury selection, that he was speaking to Boldware as a colleague and did not mean the remarks to be racially insulting.
Boldware told Piel that day that the defendant did appear to be a horrible person but that she did not appreciate racism on either side. She left the office, according to the suit, and “cried her way home.”
That night Boldware told the other prosecutor in the court where she works as a misdemeanor prosecutor what had happened. He told her that it was his duty to report it to upper management.
Boldware said that a day or two later she overheard John Renz, who worked in the court with Cary Piel, call her a troublemaker.
Boldware testified that she went to her supervisor, Susan Piel, who said she did not know about the remarks. She told her that she would speak to her husband, and that she doubted that she could be polite to him. Susan Piel did not intervene further in the issue, saying that as Boldware’s supervisor and Cary Piel’s wife, it was better for her to let upper management handle the problem.
Trantham said Cary Piel later gave a “half-hearted” apology and said “he hated that about himself.”
Trantham said Boldware has not received a proper apology.
“He didn’t mean it,” he said of the apology that Piel gave. “He is a virulent racist.”
Piel was disciplined for the remarks, and a disciplinary letter was placed in his personnel file. He also attended sensitivity classes on the orders of the district attorney.
Trantham said that after Piel took the course, Boldware overheard him make a reference to a “boom box” and then say that if he were not careful, he would have to take another sensitivity class.
At an office birthday party for Boldware, Susan Piel’s brother, Ryan Calvert, made the comment that he’d better leave or he’d be “going to one of those classes,” according to the suit. He was not disciplined.
On Nov. 6, 2009, Boldware took her complaints to the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division. That same day, it was reviewed and dismissed.
“Based on its investigation, the EEOC is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes,” according to the dismissal document.
Since he took office in 2007, Johnson has hired three black lawyers. Boldware was hired on the recommendation of Susan Piel.
Trantham said that if the county appeals the verdict, he and Raesz will also appeal. And, as in the original lawsuit, he will sue both Piels individually.
“The federal judge dropped the individuals out of the suit. If we have to do it again, we’re gonna put them back in,” he said.
DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.