No deal yet for man who wants state job back | NevadaAppeal.com
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No deal yet for man who wants state job back

by Geoff Dornan, Appeal Capitol Bureau

The Nevada Attorney General’s Office has rejected a request for several million dollars to settle a sexual-discrimination case by a state worker who says he was fired for taking leave to care for his wife.

William Hibbs, a social worker, won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling saying the state can’t avoid damages in his case by claiming sovereign immunity.

He filed suit in U.S. District Court saying he was fired after taking leave from his state job to care for his wife, who was seriously injured in a car crash. He charged that a female employee would have been granted leave to care for a family member.

The state originally claimed he couldn’t sue because Nevada has immunity under the 11th Amendment. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court rejected the argument, sending the case back to Reno federal court for trial.

Attorney General Brian Sandoval said he couldn’t reveal the settlement offer but that it was “essentially millions of dollars.” He said the state has rejected the offer but is still negotiating with Hibbs’ attorneys.

Treva Hearne, attorney for Hibbs, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that she suggested about $3.5 million was the state’s potential exposure in the case. The estimate included about $1.7 million in legal fees, with some of that for Hearne but most of it for Washington, D.C., lawyers who argued the case before the Supreme Court.

Hibbs would get the rest, about $1.8 million. But Hearne said, “My client is willing to settle for far less.”

Hearne also said she has asked a federal judge to set the case for mediation, and Sandoval’s office hasn’t opposed that request.

Sandoval said the state has asked for case law justifying a claim for $1.5 million in attorneys fees during the appeal process.

“The plaintiff’s attorney claims they are entitled to attorneys fees regardless of the fact the case has not been decided on its merits,” he said.

Sandoval said he doesn’t believe they can seek attorney fees for legal work fighting the state’s immunity claim.

“It’s appropriate our office do discovery as to claimed damages during that interim period,” he said. That would include not only details of the charges but case law showing they can make the claim in the first place.

Sandoval said both the settlement offer and the demand for attorney fees are still being discussed between his office and attorneys for Hibbs.

In the meantime, the case is headed back to U.S. District court in Reno. If it goes to trial, Hibbs is now free to argue the state violated the Family Medical Leave Act by not giving him more leave from his job to care for his injured wife.