A federal jury recently ruled that Susan Blue, secretary for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 159 in Madison, was unfairly scrutinized for voicing her dismay over treatment of an independent contractor.
The courtroom victory earned her more than $200,000 in damages.
Blue defended journeyman electrician Alexander Phillips after his union membership was denied in late 2005. Her superior, William Harrelson, Local 159 business manager at the time, refused to include Phillips’ name on a union referral list. This, despite the fact he passed a wireman exam and paid his initiation fee.
Phillips filed a complaint through the Madison Equal Opportunity Commission, which made Blue aware of the controversy. After expressing concerns in January 2006 that Phillips was slighted because of race, the court found Blue endured harsh treatment from Harrison the next 16 months.
“It was her long history of very excellent employment and then the very dramatic change against her that stood out,” said Blue’s lawyer, Mary Kennelly of Fox & Fox, S.C., Madison.
She was awarded $135,000 in punitive damages, $45,000 for pain and suffering and $26,396 in lost wages.
Blue, who is Caucasian, has served as office administrator for the Union office since 1978. Kennelly said she did not think her client’s race helped earn the favorable ruling.
“I think what made a difference was that she spoke out against the face of this retaliation despite the fact it did not concern her personally,” Kennelly said. “The fact she is Caucasian is just incidental.”
She is currently on leave, but Kennelly said Blue intends on returning to the Local 159 office in the coming days. She was not willing to have her client comment on the matter, and she said Phillips already settled his case out of court.
A receptionist who answered the phone at The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 159 on Tuesday said the IBEW has no comment on the court ruling.