Jury sides with park in bias suit

The jury deliberated two hours at the end of a six-day trial.


YOUNGSTOWN — A former seasonal golf course maintenance worker and ranger has failed in a lawsuit alleging he suffered discrimination based on his Mexican-American heritage.

The man also said he endured a hostile working environment at Mill Creek Park, which he said employed a supervisor who slandered him.

A five-woman, three-man jury deliberated just two hours Tuesday at the end of a six-day trial before rendering its unanimous verdicts in favor of the Mill Creek Metropolitan Park District and its golf director, Dennis Miller. The case was before Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

Ballardo Salinas, of Willow Crest Drive, Austintown, sued the park district and Miller, alleging Miller called him a vulgar name and referred to him on multiple occasions as a “dirty Mexican.”

Salinas, who unsuccessfully sought more than $25,000 each in compensatory and punitive damages, alleged that he reported Miller’s comments to other park officials, who took no corrective action.

“Plaintiff was subject to discrimination and harassment based upon his race,” the lawsuit said. “Defendants acted willfully and maliciously, with spite and ill will,” the lawsuit added.

Salinas was an at-will employee who worked for the park during the 2003 and 2004 golf seasons but was not rehired in 2005, park officials said in court papers.

Park officials said they “appropriately disciplined’’ Miller in writing in his personnel file after Salinas complained that Miller referred to him using a nonracial vulgarity.

They said, however, that Salinas “groundlessly accused” Miller of using the ethnic slur. “Plaintiff never made any complaints of racial or national origin harassment or discrimination while employed,” the park district said in its trial brief.

Park officials said they first learned of Salinas’ allegation concerning ethnic slurs when Salinas filed a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March 2005.

“Obviously, we agree with the jury’s verdict. We’re pleased with the outcome,” said Atty. C. Scott Lanz, park counsel.

Atty. Michael O. Kivlighan, Salinas’ lawyer, said he wasn’t sure if an appeal will be filed.

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