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Jury finds Miss. agency discriminated against female worker

A female employee of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety was awarded more than $46,000 by a federal jury that found the agency discriminated against her because she is a woman.

Ola Kirk, a master sergeant in the department’s Driver Services Division, filed a lawsuit in 2014 claiming she had been passed over for promotion to lieutenant because of her gender and age. Kirk still works for the state agency, where she has been employed since 1987.

The jury found that then-Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz and Col. Donnell Berry violated Kirk’s constitutional rights. Her lawsuit said Kirk had sought promotion unsuccessfully for 11 years. Santa Cruz retired as commissioner Tuesday. Berry retired a year ago.

Kirk’s attorney, John M. Mooney Jr., said his client was humbled by the jury’s verdict Wednesday.

“She is a loyal, dedicated employee to the agency who should have been promoted and wasn’t,” Mooney told The Clarion-Ledger reports.

The jury awarded Kirk $21,805 in back wages and $25,000 in damages plus attorney fees. Penny Nichols Corn said she was passed over for promotion to deputy director of the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security because of her sex. Corn said her right to drive a DPS vehicle to and from work was revoked after she complained, while two men who worked under her were still allowed to drive theirs.

The Office of Homeland Security, also a DPS division, settled another sex discrimination lawsuit for $75,000 last year.

Gov. Phil Bryant on Monday nominated Marshall Fisher to take over as public safety commissioner. Fisher’s appointment must be approved by the state Senate.

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