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Lawyer in Denton County DA's office claims county violated Texas labor laws

A lawyer at the Denton County District Attorney's Office claims the county violated the Texas Labor Code in a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. 

The suit, which was filed last month, claims plaintiff Nadiya Williams-Boldware hasn't been promoted to a long-desired felony prosecutor position in retaliation for previous complaints about racial discrimination at the district attorney's office.  

Williams-Boldware, who is black, also alleges that multiple white counterparts have been promoted to positions in either the felony or misdemeanor trial divisions, the lawsuit states. 

An employee of the district attorney's office since 2007, Williams-Boldware currently works in the misdemeanor intake division, which does not involve trials. 

Denton attorney Chris Raesz, who is representing Williams-Boldware in the case, could not be reached for comment. Denton County Judge Mary Horn declined to comment. 

Commissioner Hugh Coleman said the county will likely appoint an attorney in the next two weeks.  

"My only concern is the timing of the lawsuit, given that it was filed at a time when the person it concerns [District Attorney Paul Johnson] is running for re-election," Coleman said.   

First Assistant District Attorney Jamie Beck, who acts as a spokeswoman for Johnson, said she could not comment on personnel matters and pending litigation. 

Denton attorney Bill Trantham previously filed a federal discrimination lawsuit on Williams-Boldware's behalf in 2009, when she was working in the misdemeanor department. The suit claimed that she worked in a hostile work environment because of her race. 

According to previous reports in the Denton Record-Chronicle, the suit alleged felony prosecutor Cary Piel made racially insulting remarks in Williams-Boldware's presence, and that his wife, Susan Piel, who was Williams-Boldware's supervisor in the misdemeanor crimes section of the office, did not protect Williams-Boldware from having to hear those remarks. Two other prosecutors were also accused of making harassing remarks.

Johnson fired all four prosecutors in June 2012 a week after Williams-Boldware won the trial. She was awarded a little more than $500,000 plus attorneys' fees, but the county appealed the decision soon after. 

In 2014, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned the initial ruling that Williams-Boldware worked in a hostile environment because of her race. 

"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," Beck told the Denton Record-Chronicle at the time of the verdict. 

After unsuccessful attempts to reopen the case, Williams-Boldware was transferred to her current position in the misdemeanor intake division, according to her new lawsuit. 

She now claims that the county wouldn't promote her because of "her prior assertion of the harassment and discrimination claims and continued opposition to defendant's discriminatory practices."  

"Plaintiff further asserts that defendant's failure to promote is further retaliation, harassment and discrimination based upon plaintiff's race," the lawsuit states. 

Susan Piel, one of the prosecutors who was fired as a result of the initial lawsuit, is currently running against Denton resident Sean Kilgore for Denton County Criminal Court-at-Law No. 2. 

"Having experienced this process myself, in a case that was dismissed where I did nothing wrong, I can only feel empathy for those involved," Piel said. 

JULIAN GILL can be reached at 940-566-6882. 

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NOTE: This story has been edited to better describe the 2009 lawsuit.