BY STEFANO ESPOSITO Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org
A federal jury Thursday awarded $650,000 in damages to a former Cicero town employee who claimed Town President Larry Dominick fired him in act of political retaliation.
Merced Rojas, a former Cicero handyman who did work for senior citizens, is delighted by the verdict, said his attorney, Dana Kurtz.
“He feels he’s really contributed to the community and to making a change in Cicero,” Kurtz said Thursday. “It may be a pebble in the ocean, but it’s a start.”
During the almost-two-week trial, Rojas claimed he was fired in 2006 because he is Hispanic and because he was no longer a Dominick political loyalist. Kurtz told jurors that the firing, retaliation and betrayal almost destroyed Rojas and his family.
The jury found that Rojas was a victim of political retaliation but not racial discrimination.
“I was elected to defend the rights of the taxpayers and I will not back down,” Dominick said in a written statement after the verdict. “I will not be discouraged by this jury ruling.”
Ray Hanania, Cicero’s spokesman, said the jury’s decision regarding the claims of racial discrimination is “a vindication against an ugly and false charge.”
Hanania said Kurtz “turned the trial into a circus, putting all politics and all politicians on trial in an atmosphere poisoned by biased media reporting.”
Dominick’s attorney, Craig Tobin, argued at trial that the town fired Rojas because he did a plumbing job for a homeowner for money on town time. On Thursday, Tobin said: “We are not happy and don’t agree with the verdict, but we certainly believe in the jury system. . . . They did what they thought was right.”
Kurtz said the verdict sends the message that “corrupt politicians cannot retaliate against and fire people because of their political beliefs.”
The jury ordered Dominick to pay $350,000 of the total award.