Case closed: City of Birmingham settles federal discrimination lawsuit with longtime city accountant

Joseph D. Bryant By Joseph D. Bryant The Birmingham News
on May 28, 2014 at 7:55 AM, updated May 28, 2014 at 8:00 AM
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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama --A legal tug-of-war between the city of Birmingham and a longtime accountant is finally over after  settlement of a federal discrimination lawsuit.

The city will pay $160,000 for Virginia Spidle's legal fees, expenses and damages, city officials confirmed to

The settlement is the last of litigation between Spidle and Birmingham Mayor William Bell's administration.

The money breaks down this way: $125,000 paid to Spidle's attorney, Gayle Gear; $10,000 paid to Spidle and $25,000 paid in expenses.

Spidle continues to work for the city.

Spidle previously won the fight to return to work and was awarded back pay for her time away from work. Terms of the newly settled federal lawsuit include for the first time Spidle's attorney's fees since the cases began nearly four years ago.

Gear in the past has said her client should not be liable for paying the cost to defend her against charges that were ultimately either dropped or found untrue.

The cost of litigation is considerably higher, however, when adding in the legal fees paid to the city's outside attorneys. The figure is in addition to the earlier legal fight over Spidle's employment.

Gear declined to comment on the settlement details and referred questions to the city. However, Gear in the past has been explicit in her arguments for litigation, calling it a matter of basic fairness and civil rights.

"We are celebrating 50 years of progress in civil rights. In the year we are celebrating that, good people of Birmingham would not approve of mistreating a person because of their race," Gear told in January 2013 when the lawsuit was filed. "The foot soldiers - those who have worked diligently on behalf of race relations for this city - what happened in 2010, 2011 and 2012 is not a step forward in race relations. It is a step backwards. And that is why the lawsuit had to be filed."

Though the city typically does not comment on litigation, City Attorney Ralph Cook provided the settlement details requested by

Spidle's lawsuit claimed there was a pattern of racial discrimination toward white employees at the city.

Spidle had been fired twice on allegations of racism and incompetence, then ordered rehired by the Jefferson County Personnel Board and by a Jefferson County Circuit Judge Court panel.

She then slapped the city with a federal lawsuit saying it was Mayor William Bell's administration that was the true perpetrator of racial discrimination.

The legal wrangling began in 2010, when the then 24-year employee was fired after accusations of racial discrimination against black subordinates. Spidle is white.

Much of the lawsuit recounted testimony heard in days of hearings at the Jefferson County Personnel Board, where Spidle was ultimately cleared of her initial firing charge.

Spidle's had claimed her firings were retaliation for her participation in an earlier complaint filed by a white employee who complained of mistreatment at the city.

Spidle also conjectured that her firing was in retaliation for questioning the validity of numbers related to Bell's declaration of a looming $77 million deficit shortly after he took office in 2010.

Bell and his supporters had ballyhooed his efforts to reduce the city's financial crisis after taking over from former Mayor Larry Langford.

Gear, an employment lawyer, called Spidle's an extraordinary case.

"I have never in my entire career had a case like this," Gear said in late 2012. "You had someone with 24 years of experience with an unblemished record. To come to work one day and find out that her life has changed...that is very, very painful."