Settlement calls for attorney general's office to pay $26,000

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 | 4:21 p.m. CDT; updated 4:24 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Attorney General Jay Nixon’s office has agreed to pay $26,000 and provide a retirement benefits boost to a quadriplegic woman who claimed employment discrimination.

The settlement with Marla Grothoff includes no admission of wrongdoing.

Grothoff was one of 16 attorneys in the Department of Social Services’ Child Support Enforcement Division whose jobs were eliminated when some of their duties were transferred to the attorney general’s office in 2003.

Nixon’s office hired 12 of those attorneys, but not Grothoff.

Grothoff sued in October 2004 in Boone County Circuit Court alleging discrimination, including under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The case was transferred to federal court, where Magistrate William Knox ruled in July 2006 that there was enough of a dispute about whether she was qualified for the attorney general’s office job as to allow her discrimination lawsuit to go forward.

But in May 2007, Knox ruled against one of Grothoff’s main claims when he determined the state was protected by sovereign immunity from her allegation that it had violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The settlement, which still needs approval from the federal court, calls for the state to pay Grothoff and her attorney $26,000, and to calculate that into her retirement benefits as if she had worked for the state from July 1, 2003, through Nov. 2, 2007. The settlement also allows her to accrue sick leave benefits as if she had been working for the state during that time.

But Grothoff agrees not to ever claim she was employed by the attorney general’s office nor to seek future employment from the attorney general or the Department of Social Services, according to the settlement.

An attorney for Grothoff did not immediately return a call Wednesday.

Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said there was no discrimination against Grothoff, adding that she did not rank among the most-qualified applicants for the job. The settlement noted that Grothoff had been assigned at the Department of Social Services to handle just seven of the 1,893 cases that were being transferred to the attorney general’s office.

Asked why Nixon’s office agreed to pay money to resolve the case, Holste replied: “Sometimes assessments are made to reach a settlement rather than taking that chance of putting the treasury at further risk.”

Nixon is a Democratic candidate for governor this year. As such, the Republican Party has highlighted Grothoff’s lawsuit. The GOP claimed Wednesday that the settlement amounted to “hush money” paid with “taxpayer dollars to make a politically damaging lawsuit go away.”

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