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AUSTINTOWN Court OKs claim of bias, not distress



Published: Wed, May 1, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Dina was hired as a full-time officer while police were appealing the decision.

By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

AUSTINTOWN -- An appeals court has ruled that Kathy Dina proved she was a victim of discrimination when she wasn't hired as a full-time police officer, but she should not get $75,000 for emotional distress she contends she suffered when she was passed over for the job.

She has since been hired as a full-time officer.

The 7th District Court of Appeals rulings are in response to the police department's appeal of a 1999 jury decision that Dina was a victim of discrimination. The appeal contended Dina didn't have enough evidence to prove her case.

Dina, who had been an auxiliary officer since January 1993, wanted to fill one of seven openings for full-time officers in the department in November 1994. When she wasn't hired, she filed a discrimination complaint in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

Court cited evidence

According to the appeals court ruling, Dina had evidence showing that township police officers and supervisors believed women shouldn't be on the force. She said officers commented that a woman's place was in the home, not in the police department.

Township Administrator Michael Dockry said the township doesn't believe the comments were made. Dockry said he expects trustees to meet with their attorneys to decide if the case should proceed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Neil Klingshirn, the Akron lawyer who represents Dina, said Tuesday he hadn't seen the rulings. Based on a description of the rulings, Klingshirn said Dina should be credited with an additional four years of service. He said he's not sure the appeals court should have ruled that Dina shouldn't get the $75,000 because the appeals judges weren't in the courtroom when she described the emotional distress she suffered.

"I'm not aware of any case where the appeals court has taken this kind of step," he said.

The ruling states that the $75,000 award was excessive because the only evidence Dina presented of her emotional distress was her own testimony.

Judge Mary DeGenaro wrote the ruling, and Judge Gene Donofrio concurred. Judge Joseph Vukovich concurred in judgment only.

Klingshirn noted Dina was hired as a full-time officer in September 1999, about the same time the jury made its decision.

John Cannon, who served as police chief when Dina's complaint was filed, could not be reached, nor could Gordon Ellis, who replaced Cannon as chief in December 1999.

Lt. Mark Durkin said police take a mandatory cultural diversity training class while attending the police academy. Diversity training continues once officers begin their careers in law enforcement, he said.

Durkin, however, said that diversity classes are not focused on sexual harassment. "We treat everybody the same," he said.

Dina was awarded a total of $279,866 for four years of back pay, retirement savings and interest, as well as emotional distress.

Wanted new trial

In the appeal, the police department also argued for a new trial because a juror had a prior relationship with Dina. The juror, Mark Gruver, did not admit the relationship, police said.

Gruver's son played baseball with Dina's son, according to the appeal.

The ruling states that attorneys for the police department could have questioned Gruver in depth about the relationship during trial.

hill@vindy.com




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