Staff urges training to stop costly civil rights suits | NevadaAppeal.com

Staff urges training to stop costly civil rights suits

Geoff Dornan, staff writer

Gov. Kenny Guinn was urged Tuesday to expand state programs designed to teach managers how to avoid sexual harassment and other civil rights lawsuits.

Tort Claims Manager Stan Miller told the Board of Examiners civil rights claims account for 10 percent of claims against the state but consume 46 percent of the settlement money. He said the state has paid out an average of more than $1 million a year since 1996 to close 140 civil rights suits.

Among the most expensive, he said, are 26 sexual harassment suits which settled for an average of $60,213. The list includes a dozen wrongful termination claims for an average of $28,000 and 10 claims for discrimination averaging $13,440.

Miller and state Risk Manager Sue Dunt said many of those sexual harassment claims could have been avoided.

“With civil rights violations, we find that one of the problems is that we didn’t act quick enough,” Dunt said. “Something is brought to our attention and we don’t act.”

Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, Dunt and Miller urged Gov. Kenny Guinn to expand training, especially in how to avoid sexual harassment and now to handle complaints when they are brought to a supervisor’s attention.

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Dunt said the state needs to take care of those types of problem “before they get so mad there’s no turning back.”

“I think we’ve got to concentrate a little bit on prevention,” said Del Papa.

Miller said existing training programs cost the state $2,600 for each class.

“If we prevent just one of those claims, we’ve paid for it 10 times over,” he said.

The 140 civil rights claims were among 2,268 claims filed against the state over the past six fiscal years. He said the state has paid something on 1,185 of those claims. The largest single payment — $2.4 million — was approved in May to settle with the survivors of a wreck caused by a man fleeing from the Nevada Highway Patrol.

Miller said 60 percent of all claims are auto-related, but that they normally settle for much smaller amounts. He said just 21 percent of the money paid out in the past five years has been for auto-related claims.

Other claims involve property damage, non-automotive injuries and a variety of rights violations such as false arrest, illegal search, and constitutional violations such as free speech and religion issues.