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Saturday, April 20, 2024 at 5:40 AM
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Hutto on hook for $7.5M in racism lawsuit

EDIE ZUVANICH Special to the Press

HUTTO – In what may be the closing chapter of the Odis Jones versus the city of Hutto lawsuit, United States Magistrate Judge Mark Lane has ruled on the city’s appeals and the amount owed to Jones has been reduced from it’s original $12.5 million.

The $5 million reduction in damages was attributed mainly to limits on awards rather than the facts presented in the discrimination and retaliation case. The judge appeared less than impressed by Hutto’s legal arguments.

“The court understands the root of Hutto’s throweverything- at-the-wall-tosee- what-sticks strategy, it is downright repugnant that a governmental entity, here a fast-growing city, discriminated against a person on the basis of race,” Judge Lane wrote in his decision. “Hutto had its day in court. In fact, it had five. Hutto had an opportunity to present its case, to choose its face, to tell its story. Hutto had its chance to persuade a jury. It did not.”

Jones, who is Black, was city manager of Hutto from 2016 to 2019. The Hutto City Council entered into a separation agreement with Jones effective Dec. 31, 2019, granting him 12 months of severance pay per his employment agreement. The city also agreed in writing not to disparage Jones.

On Dec. 3, 2020, council passed a resolution to declare the separation agreement void and demanded he return the $412,000 severance pay, according to trial documents. Jones filed a complaint claiming racial discrimination and breach of contract, naming the city of Hutto, council member (now Mayor) Mike Snyder and former council member Tanner Rose as defendants.

Snyder and Rose were subsequently removed as defendants and the case went to trial with the city of Hutto as the sole defendant.

The case was tried in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas – Austin Division. Trial began Feb. 27, 2023, and at the end of the one week, the jury awarded Jones the sum of $8 million in damages for his racial discrimination claim and $4.5 million for his breach of contract. The city filed multiple motions to appeal the judgement.

While the judge dismissed some of Hutto’s grounds for appeal – “A brief submitted seven months after trial was not the proper vehicle to argue for how the jury should interpret conflicting evidence or to take issue with the jury instruction,” he wrote – he found two points that affected the award amount.

One was the potential of the two awards constituting a “double recovery.” Lane states that based on that risk, Jones is willing to remit his $4.5 million contract claim damages award. Lane also ordered Jones to remit another $500,000 because his claim did not correctly itemize qualified legal expenses.

The judge gave Jones until Jan. 26 to agree to the reduction of award, and upon that accomplishment Lane said, “the court will deny the motion for new trial without condition.”

A Hutto spokesperson said because the matter is still pending in court, they have been asked by their attorney not to comment at this time.


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