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Economist testifies in discrimination suit about lost earnings

on March 14, 2012

The plaintiffs in the discrimination suit against Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus, former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter and the city aren’t suing for a specific dollar amount.

But Wednesday’s testimony for the first time hinted at the costs they may have incurred from allegedly discriminatory promotion processes.

According to an economist’s testimony, the total amount that five of the seven plaintiffs may have lost in total lifetime earnings and pension payments by not being promoted by Magnus ranges into the millions of dollars.

Phillip Allman, an economist with Allman & Peterson Economics LLC, presented estimates of how much Capt. Eugene McBride, Lts. Arnold Threets, Shawn Pickett, Johan Simon, and Sgt. James Jenkins lost in future earnings and pensions by not being promoted to deputy chief. Allman made a number of assumptions, he testified, including that the plaintiffs would retire with 90 percent of their highest salaries, as stipulated by the city’s collective bargaining agreement.

Jenkins and Threets stand to lose the most by not being promoted, Allman testified, both around $1.5 million over their life expectancies.

But under cross examination, defense attorney Geoffrey Spellberg questioned Allman’s conclusions.

Spellberg noted that some of the plaintiffs, thanks to heavy overtime earnings in recent years, would actually have taken a pay cut if promoted to the deputy chief position, which is not permitted to collect overtime pay.

Jenkins, for instance, earned about $223,000 in pay last year, thanks in part to a heavy overtime workload, Spellberg said. Jenkins would actually have earned about $43,000 less if he had been promoted, Spellberg asserted, because Jenkins would not be able to amass overtime earnings in the management position.

Allman noted that overtime does not factor into pension calculations, and added that as a sergeant, Jenkins makes other sacrifices in upping his compensation.

“Yes,” Jenkins would take an initial pay cut if promoted, Allman answered. “But what’s the value of leisure?”

The seven African American plaintiffs also include Lts. Michael Booker and Cleveland Brown. They allege that Magnus and Ritter made numerous racially insensitive comments and conspired to stall the plaintiffs’ advance through the ranks in 2006-7. Magnus and Ritter are white.

In late testimony, City Manager Bill Lindsay said he believed that Magnus engaged in some questionable banter with the plaintiffs, but that he worked at the time to resolve the issue.

Lindsay said he became aware that Magnus made a comment about Juneteenth during a police management. Juneteenth is a holiday commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas in 1865. Magnus, unaware of the history of Juneteenth, allegedly asked whether it was “a holiday for shooting people.”

Lindsay said he “counseled” Magnus and made it clear that he found the comment “inappropriate.”

“(Magnus) expressed regret that he said it,” Lindsay said. “He knew by that time when I talked to him that it was not an appropriate statement to make. He regrets it.”

Lindsay is expected to continue his testimony at 10 a.m. Thursday.

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