Pasco sheriff reaches $2 million settlement in age discrimination lawsuit

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has reached a $2 million settlement with six former employees who sued the agency for age discrimination after they were let go more than two years ago.

Two of the employees, lawyers Mary Anne Burke and Mike Randall, started with the office in 1993 under former Sheriff Lee Cannon. All six were 56 or older when they were forced to retire or resign in late 2008 or early 2009.

Some of the plaintiffs left after being told the Sheriff's Office "was going in a different direction." All left their jobs under former Sheriff Bob White, who retired in April.

As part of the agreement, the agency does not admit wrongdoing. The $2 million payment will be covered by a self-insurance fund under an insurance arrangement with several other sheriff's agencies across Florida.

Sheriff Chris Nocco said in a statement he agreed to the deal "after receiving advice" from his lawyers and the agency's insurance representative. Nocco also said he hopes the former employees "can move forward, not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of the Pasco Sheriff's Office and the citizens of Pasco County."

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Cynthia Sass, said the agreement vindicated her clients, whose careers "ended in disgrace."

"None of them did anything wrong," Sass said. "There was no cause to terminate them. The evidence uncovered in the litigation demonstrated that the only reason these six individuals lost their livelihood and their careers was because they were older."

The settlement will not affect rates for the upcoming budget year, though the insurance company will review whether the case means the agency will pay higher rates in future years.

"We don't anticipate this to have a significant impact on this budget or upcoming budgets," said agency spokesman Doug Tobin.

Burke and Randall were replaced with current general counsel Jeremiah Hawkes and contract attorney Richard Corcoran. Both new hires have deep Republican ties — Hawkes was a former lawyer in the Florida House under Marco Rubio, and Corcoran is a state lawmaker who is slated to be a future House speaker.

Other plaintiffs included former Capts. Skip Stone, Sandra Reed and Jim Driscoll and former staff attorney Ron France. All six will split the $2 million payment, after attorney's fees. Pasco's self-insurance fund will cover its own legal costs in a separate payment.

Tobin said the settlement was agreed to verbally Wednesday, though lawyers for the two sides are still working out the specific terms of the deal.

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com.

Pasco sheriff reaches $2 million settlement in age discrimination lawsuit 07/29/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 29, 2011 9:58pm]

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