A panel of judges in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans has overturned a June 2012 U.S. Eastern District Court ruling in favor of Nadiya Williams-Boldware, who alleged that prosecutors in the Denton County District Attorney’s Office made racial remarks she found offensive, thus, creating a hostile work environment.
Williams-Boldware was awarded $170,000 for past mental pain by jurors. The court denied her damages for physical pain or future emotional pain.
“We have felt very strongly about the case since the very beginning and we did everything we were supposed to do as an employer in these type of claims,” Jamie Beck, first assistant district attorney and spokeswoman for the DA’s office, said of the verdict rendered in the county’s favor.
Denton County officials learned late Friday they had won their appeal.
The case began in April 2009, when Williams-Boldware was working as an attorney in the misdemeanor department of the Denton County District Attorney’s Office. The suit was filed in December of that year against the county.
According to past interviews, Williams-Boldware, who is black, was shocked when co-worker Cary Piel allegedly made racially charged remarks about a black woman as they were preparing to prosecute her criminal mischief case.
Williams-Boldware had said she was the only African-American working in the office at the time.
The suit also alleged that John Rentz, a felony prosecutor and sometime partner of Piel, expressed the same sentiment as Piel and later allegedly harassed Williams-Boldware.
Susan Piel, a misdemeanor trial chief, was named in the suit as Williams-Boldware’s supervisor. Williams-Boldware accused Susan Piel, who is married to Cary Piel, of failing to protect her from the remarks.
Ryan Calvert, Susan Piel’s brother, was also named in the suit and accused of harassing Williams-Boldware.
After the June 2012 verdict, the four employees named in the suit were fired by District Attorney Paul Johnson.
Beck said they felt like they had to respect the jury’s verdict and that’s why the four were fired at the time. She said they still felt strongly they weren’t in the wrong, and soon, the county began to appeal.
William Trantham, William-Boldware’s attorney, said his client is disappointed in the verdict, but it was to be expected.
“They are a very right-wing court, and before the opinion was even ruled, we had been in discussion of what to do next,” he said during a phone interview Saturday afternoon.
Within the next two weeks, Trantham said, they will probably ask for a rehearing. Since the ruling was overturned, she will have to forfeit any monies awarded to her.
“It’s worth the fight and she [William-Boldware] is very popular and well respected in the DA’s office now,” he said. “If need be, I will take this case to the Supreme Court.”
County Judge Mary Horn said Saturday she just learned of the verdict being overturned and was to withold comment until she is briefed along with county commissioners in a future executive session in Commissioners Court.
Sidney Powell, a Dallas-based attorney who was appointed last year to represent the county because of her appellate court experience, said they are delighted that a unanimous panel of the Fifth Circuit recognized that Denton County and the district attorney’s office are considerate and have egalitarian work environments which respect the rights and feelings of their employees.
“[They] act promptly to resolve any problems in a positive way. This is a complete vindication of D.A. Paul Johnson,” Powell said via e-mail.
Williams-Boldware is currently serving in the Child Protective Services division as family law attorney 2 in the Denton District Attorney Office.
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.