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February 2, 2016

Lynette Petruska Wins Nearly $800,000 for a Client who Suffered Racial Discrimination

St. Louis Post Dispatch

City police Sgt. David Bonenberger, who won a racial discrimination case over a lost assignment, is about to be paid the $620,000 he won about two years ago in a federal lawsuit, plus $172,000 in attorney’s fees.

The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has refused to reconsider the case, leaving the city without further appeals.

Bonenberger, who is white, sued in 2012, claiming he was passed over for assistant director at the police academy. The suit alleged that Lt. Michael Muxo, then the director, told Bonenberger not to bother to apply because the job was going to a black woman under orders from Lt. Col. Reggie Harris, who also is black.

In 2013, an all-white jury awarded $200,000 in actual damages against all of the defendants for intentional race discrimination and $420,000 in punitive damages. The punitive damages were $100,000 against Muxo, $300,000 against Harris and $20,000 against then-Chief Dan Isom.

Bonenberger’s attorney, Lynette Petruska, said she believes the city will pay all the judgments.

Harris and Muxo were found to have conspired to commit discrimination. Isom and Harris have since retired.

Eight months after the verdict, U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry ordered Muxo, Harris and the current chief, Sam Dotson, to undergo anti-discrimination training of at least one three-hour session in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

City officials had no comment.

Bonenberger and Petruska said they don’t believe the department has done much to eradicate racial discrimination but instead sent a message that those who speak up will be punished.

About 10 days after Perry ordered the anti-discrimination training, Muxo was transferred to a position that put Bonenberger in “regular contact with” him, Petruska said. About 11 days after Bonenberger’s attorneys argued before the court of appeals, Bonenberger was transferred.

Dotson ordered an internal investigation into the discrimination allegations to cease in October 2014, “on the advice of counsel,” Petruska said.

“By doing that, they are condoning and encouraging and tolerating this reckless indifference standard when it comes to discrimination,” she said.

Bonenberger said he is “extremely disappointed” at the long time the case took to resolve and that more qualified candidates are passed over because of their race.

“What kind of message does that send if you are a commander and have been found to have conspired to cover up discrimination and you walk away clean, unscathed and with absolutely zero discipline?” he asked. “Does that not sit well with anybody besides me?”

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