EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

April 30, 2013

Andover firm loses $1 millioncivil rights case

Civil rights case stemmed from Ky. call center

ANDOVER — An Andover-based debt-collection law firm has been ordered by a jury to pay $1 million after losing a federal civil rights case brought by a former employee in its Kentucky call center.

The verdict against Zwicker and Associates, handed down Friday by a 12-person jury in U.S. District Court in Convington, Ky., awards $1 million in damages to Clinton Burton, 42, a former employee in the firm’s Hebron, Ky., debt-collections center.

The company intends to appeal the judgment, according to Robert Thuotte, executive vice president and corporate counsel for Zwicker and Associates in Andover.

The jury determined that Burton, an African-American, was wrongfully fired from his management job at the Hebron office in 2010, according to a press release announcing the verdict.

About 300 of Zwicker’s nearly 1,000 employees nationwide are based out of the Hebron office. Zwicker’s Andover facility, located on Minuteman Road, houses its corporate offices.

Barbara Bonar, a member of Burton’s legal counsel, said the Hebron office was “filled with racist comments and racist behaviors that outraged the jury. The jury responded to that, and most of their verdict was based on the lack of credibility with Zwicker and Associates witnesses.”

The company’s defense attorneys argued that Burton was fired for mocking a fellow co-worker, according to the release.

Thuotte said the company is “both shocked and saddened by the recent jury verdict in favor of this former employee at their Kentucky facility.”

The company “finds the jury verdict contrary to their commitment to equality, dignity and respect in the workplace,” Thuotte said. “Had management at Zwicker been aware of the alleged remarks or behavior in the workplace, they would have taken immediate steps to rectify the situation and hold those responsible accountable.”

The Hebron office, in northern Kentucky, is located “truly where the North meets the South,” Bonar said. “There’s a lot of thinking in the North that racism still doesn’t exist, but in the South, it does.”

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