The U.S. Department of Justice has opted to pay up rather than take their chances fighting an age-discrimination lawsuit filed by a former federal prosecutor in Nashville.
Neither side would divulge the settlement amount, but a well-positioned source familiar with the case says former prosecutor Larry Moon, 64, received more than $330,000 in exchange for dropping the lawsuit against the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee. In settling the case out of court, the government admits no fault in the matter.
A trial was scheduled to begin Aug. 14 before U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan, who earlier this year denied the government’s motion to dismiss the case. In his opinion, Jordan states that the evidence suggests Moon might very well have suffered discrimination, adding that Moon performed as an able attorney. In fact, Moon handled hundreds of cases at the Nashville office, apparently never losing a jury trial.
Had a settlement not been reached, a trial almost certainly would have resulted in further scrutiny of what critics describe as a troubled office under then-U.S. Attorney Jim Vines, a longtime corporate lawyer who had no prosecutorial experience before his appointment in 2002. Given that the Department of Justice already is embroiled in a number of controversies, including the questionable firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year, sources close to the Nashville office say it isn’t surprising the government chose to settle.
Justice Department lawyers handling the lawsuit say they’re satisfied with the outcome, adding that a trial would have been difficult, risky and costly for all parties involved. “Both sides understood the risk of going to trial, and we’re happy with the results and looking forward to moving ahead,” says Lora Taylor, one of two DOJ attorneys assigned to the case.
“Our client is more than satisfied with the amount of the settlement,” says Hal Hardin, who, along with Nashville attorney Chip Frensley, represented Moon in the lawsuit. Hardin, who served as U.S. attorney in Nashville from 1977-1981, adds that Moon is doing well these days, now working as an assistant public defender.
Moon filed the age discrimination suit in 2005, claiming Vines initiated a campaign to “clean house,” ridding the office of older prosecutors to open up positions for younger lawyers of his choosing. At the time, Moon was struggling with major depression following an unexpected divorce and the death of his mother, which he claims made him an easy target.
Fellow prosecutors stated in depositions that Moon was given an unreasonable workload, and that his supervisor literally would scream at him when he failed to meet unrealistic deadlines. In refusing to dismiss the case, Judge Jordan wrote in his opinion that such working conditions could reasonably be considered “hostile and abusive to the extent that he would feel compelled to resign.”
When it became clear to Moon that plans to fire him were in motion, he resigned in December 2004.
Since then, former colleagues, as well as a few federal judges, have defended Moon, calling him a zealous and knowledgeable prosecutor. In a statement filed with the court, U.S. District Judge Thomas Wiseman went on to relay his belief that age bias was a problem under Vines: “I had a conversation with [Vines] in my chambers, and I expressed my concern that age discrimination against older assistant U.S. attorneys was occurring in his office.”
But Vines and his management team have denied the allegations, saying Moon simply wasn’t doing his job. And although Vines admitted in a deposition that he might have “joked” about cleaning house being an easy way to overhaul the office, he says that never was his strategy. “I’ve never used that approach and would never try to use that approach anywhere,” adds Vines, who stepped down late last year and returned to private practice.
When both sides agreed to settle earlier this month, Moon’s lawyers were in the process of seeking documents—including witness statements and interview notes—collected during the Justice Department’s investigation of the Nashville office in March 2005. A special review team launched the DOJ investigation after assistant U.S. attorney Mike Roden, who served as the equal employment opportunity representative for Middle Tennessee at the time, issued a blistering memorandum accusing Vines of a “willful and planned pattern of age discrimination” and “misuse and abuse of managerial authority.” During Vines’ tenure, several other assistant federal prosecutors publicly complained of age discrimination.In court papers filed last month, government lawyers claimed the investigation materials were privileged and that turning them over would compromise the open communications necessary to evaluate such allegations. Given that the case has now been settled, the information is expected to remain confidential.
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