KANSAS CITY, Mo. — An appeals court has upheld a ruling that the Missouri Veterans Commission and its executive director discriminated against the commission’s former ombudsman on the basis of her age and sex.
A panel of the Western District Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the commission didn’t prove that the Cole County judge improperly handled evidence in the trial over Pat Row Kerr’s lawsuit against the commission, executive director Larry Kay and the state Public Safety Department.
In July 2016, a Cole County jury awarded Kerr $2.875 million in damages after finding that Kay and the commission were liable for sex and age discrimination and retaliating against her. The money hasn’t been paid because the state was appealing the ruling, and the appeals court ruled Tuesday that Kerr is entitled to additional attorneys’ fees.
Kerr, who is running for a state House seat, said the ruling shows that Kay invented reasons to fire her.
“My case being affirmed just reinforces that they were lying,” Kerr said Tuesday.
Loree Ann Paradise, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Hawley, said she couldn’t comment on whether the state will file additional appeals.
Kerr’s attorney, Jerome Dobson, said Kerr “presented overwhelming evidence of discrimination and (Cole County Circuit Judge Jon) Beetem tried an excellent case.”
“The real question is why Larry Kay is still the executive director of the commission. By our calculations the state’s liability now is more than $3.5 million because of Larry Kay’s actions,” Dobson said.
Kay was placed on paid leave for a month after the trial concluded.
Kerr, who joined the commission in 2004, was ombudsman when Kay was hired as deputy director on October 2006.
“Just after Kay was hired, he told Kerr there were ‘generational differences’ between them and asked Kerr when she planned to retire,” the appeals court wrote as an example of several conflicts between the two. When Kay became the commission’s director in June 2009, he wanted to split the ombudsman’s position into two jobs and Kerr disagreed with that plan.
An angry Kay regularly called Kerr “to berate and intimidate her” into taking a new position, Judge Karen King Mitchell wrote in the opinion. Kerr reluctantly accepted the new position in July 2009 and was fired a few months later, with Kay claiming it was due to budget cuts.
Kerr made $67,776 in 2008 and the evidence showed while Kerr claimed he couldn’t afford to keep her, three male employees were given raises and two jobs with total salaries in excess of $100,000 remained open.
The state complained that Beetem wouldn’t allow it to use evidence Kerr had filed in her lawsuit because Kay had rejected her personal interest in him. And Kerr’s case included several people who served under Kay during a National Guard deployment to Kosovo testifying that Kay belittled and berated high-ranking female officers and replaced many of them with men. The state argued that testimony was prejudicial to Kay and the commission.
The appeals court rejected both arguments.