OXFORD – A federal jury determined this week the town of Bruce should pay $18,000 to a black public works employee after not promoting him based on his race.
A two-day trial led to Roderick Keith Gray receiving damages from the town of Bruce, which did not hire the longtime employee as public works director in July 2010. Instead, the town’s then-Board of Aldermen, comprised of three whites and two blacks, selected an out-out-state candidate, who was white, with extensive management experience but less hands-on work and without current certification for water and wastewater operations.
Gray’s attorney, Jim Waide, said Bruce leaders made the hiring decision based on factors outside of qualifications.
“The guy they hired had been in management but let his certification lapse,” Waide said. “You have to be hands-on in Bruce.”
After deliberating for 21⁄2 hours, the jury of seven whites and one black sided with Gray.
Gray’s salary was $31,000 annually when he applied for the public works director position. The town offered the job to the white candidate for $60,000.
In September 2012, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills of the Northern District of Mississippi ruled that Gray didn’t have enough evidence to prove his case; however, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision in July 2013, ruling a jury should hear the case.
The hired public works director left after about a year. Instead of promoting Gray to the position, the board split the director job into two separate positions, hiring him as water and sewage supervisor.
Bruce Mayor Rudy Pope, elected in June, attended the trial and has since spoken with Gray, who will continue working for the town.
“I told him to not even worry about it,” Pope said. “We’ll just get back to work like we need to.”