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    Judge dismisses suit accusing TECO of bias

    By GRAHAM BRINK

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published October 12, 2001


    TAMPA -- A federal judge decided Thursday that an employee's discrimination allegations against Tampa Electric Co. were too flimsy for the trial to continue.

    U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew deliberated overnight on whether to have TECO make its defense and the jury render a verdict.

    Bucklew decided instead that Cathalene Kinsler had not fulfilled the minimum legal requirement to let the testimony continue, and dismissed the case.

    TECO lawyer Thomas Gonzalez said the case revealed the flaws in Kinsler's argument that she was discriminated against because she is black.

    "They didn't raise any doubts that the two people hired for the job in question had better qualifications," Gonzalez said. "This wasn't about discrimination."

    The ruling disappointed Kinsler's lawyer, Guy Burns, but he said it did not mean TECO hadn't discriminated against his client.

    "This case centered on just one job promotion that she was not given," Burns said. "She was there for a decade and was denied 30 such promotions."

    Nine black employees, including Kinsler, sued TECO in 1998, claiming race discrimination kept them from the management ranks. They sought damages for emotional distress, punitive damages, back pay and attorneys' fees.

    After an unsuccessful bid for class-action status, several of the plaintiffs settled their cases. Kinsler's was the first to make it to trial, which began Tuesday and was expected to end today. The next of the two remaining trials is scheduled for Monday.

    Kinsler, now 54, said the final blow came in April 1998. Kinsler, who has a master's degree from Troy State University, was working as a receptionist when she applied for one of two customer service jobs. Two white women got the jobs.

    After Kinsler told a supervisor she might picket the company with a placard saying, "I'm a black, middle-aged, educated woman and I can't get promoted," she was given a different management job, said Burns. She still holds that job but feels it was given to her as a token job.

    Earlier, Bucklew had limited Kinsler's trial to the April 1998 job promotion. Gonzalez argued that the two women hired for that job had many more years of customer service experience than Kinsler.

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