On Jan. 11, the U.S. Appeals Court, Fourth District, upheld a jury’s judgment that the board of the Western North Carolina Air Quality Agency discriminated against Melanie Pitrolo when it passed over her for a key promotion in 2005. The ruling overturns an earlier U.S. District Court finding that had reversed the jury and allowed Buncombe County — which oversees the agency — to compel Pitrolo to pay its legal costs. Now, Pitrolo may get to recoup her legal costs from the county.
In 2005, Pitrolo initiated a discrimination complaint alleging that the air agency, its board members and Buncombe County officials violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by illegally considering her gender in the process of picking an interim director after former director Bob Camby’s retirement, Xpress reported in the article “Pollution, Politics and Gender” (Oct. 28, 2009). Two years after the complaint was filed, now-retired U.S. District Court Judge Lacy Thornburg found in favor of the county and agency, saying no discrimination had occurred. But the U.S. Appeals Court overruled him, requiring the case to go to trial. It did, and in 2007, a jury of five women and three men determined that gender was a factor in the hiring decision but that the board would have hired Brigman in any case. The jury awarded no damages.
But Thornburg in turn overruled the jury in August 2009, agreeing with Buncombe’s request that Pitrolo pay the county and agency’s court costs.
Pitrolo appealed, and on Jan. 11, the Appeals Court concluded, “We reinstate the jury verdict and judgment in favor of Pitrolo, and we remand the matter for reconsideration of Pitrolo’s post-trial motion for declaratory relief and attorney fees and costs.”