Topeka Kansas will pay $350,000 to a woman fired by former Attorney General Phill Kline to settle the sex discrimination lawsuit she later filed against him, Gov. Sam Brownback and top legislative leaders decided Wednesday.
Brownback and the legislators approved the settlement with former Johnson County prosecutor Jacqie Spradling at the request of current Attorney General Derek Schmidt. The agreement ends Spradling’s lawsuit in Johnson County District Court and a separate complaint before a federal administrative judge in Washington.
Brownback and eight legislative leaders met as the State Finance Council, which under Kansas law must approve legal settlements involving state officials. Kline had left the attorney general’s office and was Johnson County district attorney when he fired Spradling in April 2007, but he still was considered a state official.
Kline has said he dismissed Spradling for insubordination and other reasons, but Spradling alleged in her lawsuit that he retaliated against her for complaining about gender discrimination within the DA’s office. The state and a top Kline deputy, Stephen Maxwell, also were named as defendants in the lawsuit, while the state is the only defendant in the federal complaint.
An internal memo for Brownback and the legislators, obtained by The Associated Press, said Spradling had 15 witnesses, all employed in the district attorney’s office in spring 2007, who agreed she “was treated differently than other employees” after written complaints to Kline and others, less than five weeks before her dismissal. The memo said the defendants had the legal burden of showing Spradling was fired for non-discriminatory reasons.
“The State of Kansas would be exposed to far more than this amount in attorney fees alone should this matter go to trial, in addition to any damage award,” the memo said.
The Finance Council’s vote was 8-0, with House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican, abstaining because, he said, he knew Spradling’s spouse. Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican, said he voted to approve the settlement reluctantly but saw it as “fiscally prudent.”
And Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said: “I don’t think anybody’s happy about it.”
Attorneys for the parties in the lawsuit had little to say, citing confidentiality requirements imposed with the lawsuit pending. The case had been scheduled to go to trial in October, but the presiding judge delayed it until January to allow attorneys to work on a settlement.
“The number was the result of — I’m going to use the word tedious — negotiations,” said Kline attorney Reid Holbrook.
Spradling attorney Joe Colantuono said: “This allows all parties to move forward and put this behind them.”
Kline did not return a phone message Wednesday evening seeking comment.
Brownback and the legislative leaders discussed the settlement in a closed, 20-minute session with attorneys for the state. Brownback and six of the eight lawmakers are Republicans, like Kline.
Asked whether Kansans should read anything into the settlement about Kline’s past actions or Spradling’s claims, the governor said, “No.”
“It’s what’s recommended by our counsel,” he said. “There was a mediation process that the parties went through.”