New lawsuit filed against town of Beloit

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011
— The town of Beloit is facing a new defamation lawsuit related to the series of federal court cases alleging racism and discrimination by former town Police Chief John Wilson.

Anthony Smith of Beloit filed the case in Rock County Court last month seeking an undetermined amount for damage to his reputation, emotional stress and loss of income.

The suit is filed against the town police and fire departments and police officer Allen Cass.

The case is among nearly a dozen court cases and state employment complaints filed by current and former town employees against the town, Wilson and former town administrator Robert Museus.

The town has reached cash settlements with two of its former police officers for more than $160,000, and a federal judge has dismissed another case.

Recent actions include:

-- Federal district Judge William Conley last month dismissed the case brought by officer David Burkee, who had alleged racial discrimination and retaliation against him when he complained of racial discrimination.

Burkee failed to show enough evidence, Conley wrote in a ruling.

-- Former officer Christopher Luzinski received a cash settlement of $125,000 to settle two federal cases.

Luzinski had documented racist comments Wilson made in the workplace and defended Burkee, according to complaints.

He talked to town officials but no action was taken against Wilson, who retaliated against Luzinski, according to complaints.

Luzinski is working for another police department in the Milwaukee area and is "moving on with his life," his attorney, Anne Sulton, said.

-- Former police sergeant David Dransfield received a cash settlement of $35,250 to settle a notice of claim in Rock County Court and a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said William Henderson, attorney for the town.

A judge in September dismissed Dransfield's federal case, ruling in favor of the town.

Dransfield failed to show that Wilson retaliated against him because of Dransfield's opposition to Wilson's alleged conduct, Conley wrote in a ruling.

The town's insurance companies pay all of the settlements and lawyer fees, Henderson said, but the series of claims forced changes in insurance carriers.

The town is paying about 30 percent more for insurance after its main carrier declined to renew policies with the town after the series of claims.

American Alternative Insurance Company was the sole carrier for the town in 2009 but dropped the town's coverage for public officials and workers' compensation when policies renewed for 2010, town treasurer Evelyn Etten said.

The town now has coverage through four companies, and the total cost for premiums went up from $146,294 in 2010 to $190,346 this year, she said.

No premium cost was available for 2009, Etten said.

A "considerable amount" of the premium increase is connected to the number of claims, she said, and other factors include the typical annual rate increases and the fact that the town is buying coverage from several providers.

Other pending or settled cases include:

-- A case filed by Smith is pending before the federal appeals court in Chicago. In April, a U.S. District Court jury declined to award money to Smith, a Beloit Township business owner who claimed Wilson discriminated against him when Wilson refused to hire Smith to tow vehicles for the police department.

-- A federal trial is set for February in a case brought by officer Michael Bogdonas. He also has a January hearing scheduled before the state Equal Rights Division, Sulton said.

-- A federal jury in May awarded $1.49 million to Willie and Mary Abegglen. He is a former police sergeant, and she is the court clerk for the town. The Abegglens alleged retaliation by town officials after they complained that Wilson used racial comments and created a hostile work environment.

A federal judge in August also awarded the couple $306,668 in attorney fees.

Last updated: 7:09 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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