Punitive Damages Awarded to Fired Social Worker
Trial: An activist who raised questions about the Alameda Corridor
project had been accused of threatening a co-worker.
Los Angeles Times
June 10, 2000
A Compton Superior Court jury on Friday awarded
$175,000 in punitive damages to a social worker who was fired after raising
questions during a public hearing about potential conflicts of interest
involving the $2.4-billion Alameda Corridor project.
Jurors concluded that Shields for Families, a social
service agency and provider of substance abuse treatment, should pay the award
to Perry Crouch, 50, on the grounds that Shields wrongly terminated him from
his $42,000-a-year post in June 1998.
Crouch, a former program manager, claimed that his
employers falsely accused him of threatening to kill a co-worker and then fired
him to curry favor with the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority, with
which Shields was trying to win a job-training contract.
Ive been vindicated Crouch said.
What they were saying about me was a blatant lie. I couldnt get
another decent job after I was fired. . . . Shields put me through
Fridays judgment is in addition to $650,000 in
compensatory damages the same jury awarded Crouch after a trial in April. The
veteran community activist from Los Angeles also collected a cash payment to
settle the lawsuits claim against Gill V. Hicks, the general manager of
the corridor authority and a co-defendant in the action.
The agency is responsible for building a 20-mile
tollway for freight trains between the countys fast-growing ports and
transcontinental rail yards near downtown Los Angeles. Corridor officials have
promised to provide job training and employment opportunities for 1,000
Although Hicks is a government official, both sides
agreed to a confidential settlement.
Kathryn Icenhower, Shields executive director,
declined to comment. The agencys attorneys couldnt be reached on
Icenhower told the news media in 1998 that Crouch was
suspended for repeatedly speaking at public gatherings without permission and
eventually fired for threatening other members of the staff.
However, Crouchs attorney, David G. Spivak, said
that the allegations of threats were groundless, and that Crouchs firing
was calculated to placate Hicks and help Shields win a million-dollar contract
to provide job training for women. The agency never received the grant.
Crouchs problems began on April 16, 1998, when
he testified at a state Senate hearing in South Gate about the Alameda Corridor
Crouch, a member of the Alameda Corridor Jobs
Coalition, asked about potential conflicts of interests among engineering
firms, bidders for corridor contracts and private attorneys who worked for the
authority. Corridor officials, the law firms, and the companies denied any
After the speech, witnesses said, Hicks stormed out of
the hearing room and berated Crouch for almost 10 minutes. His reaction was so
loud that he drew a crowd.
On the court witness stand, Hicks later testified that
he had screamed at Crouch. He said he eventually talked to Icenhower on the
phone about a job-training grant and mentioned Crouchs Senate testimony
to her. If Crouch made such statements about the corridor again, Hicks recalled
telling her, he should consider getting a lawyer.
On April 30, 1998, days after the conversation with
Hicks, Shields suspended Crouch for a week without pay. His suspension notice
stated that he had been warned in the past about making public statements
At the end of June 1998, Shields fired Crouch, who had
been with the agency 6 1/2 years. During that time, he had won praise from
employers and citations from community groups and elected officials.
Threatening staff was the only reason cited in his termination
Trial testimony, however, raised doubts about the
grounds for firing Crouch. One witness said he had told Shields officials that
there was no threat, but was told to draft a statement about it anyway.
Evidence indicated that the man Crouch allegedly had
threatened to kill was on vacation at the time the threat purportedly was