Clark County ordered to pay $1.3M in discrimination case attorney fees

By Troy Brynelson (OPB)
Dec. 5, 2023 1:41 a.m.

The attorney fees plus the settlement money directly to employees will cost the county roughly $2 million.

Clark County Public Works property pictured outside on May, 11, 2023. The department was at the center of a hostile workplace lawsuit involving racist comments against Latino employees.

Clark County Public Works property pictured outside on May, 11, 2023. The department was at the center of a hostile workplace lawsuit involving racist comments against Latino employees.

Troy Brynelson / OPB

Clark County recently took another costly hit in federal court.


A U.S. District judge on Friday ordered the county to pay more than $1.3 million in attorney fees and other expenses to three Latino employees.

That’s in addition to the $600,000 jury award the trio won in June. The jury’s finding over the summer effectively ordered Clark County to pay for the employees’ attorneys, as well.

The judge retained discretion in tallying the payment after a review of hours worked and other financial specifics. County attorneys argued the plaintiffs’ legal team should receive a payout closer to $600,000, according to the federal judge’s recent order.

In detailing his order to pay $1.3 million, U.S. District Court Judge David Estudillo wrote that the plaintiff’s attorneys were “reasonably” entitled to about $982,000 plus an extra one-third for the “risk” of the case.

Estudillo noted the case rested primarily on the testimony of the three workers: Ray Alanis, Isaiah Hutson and Elias Peña. Jurors largely weighed their testimony against “numerous” witnesses called on behalf of the county.

The federal judge also said the attorneys — led by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, also known as MADLEF — spearheaded the case on a contingent basis. Lawyers working on contingency may not get paid at all if the case flounders.

“The likelihood of success at the outset was highly uncertain,” Estudillo wrote in his order.

To Luis Lozada, a staff attorney for MALDEF, the judge’s decision to bump the award by one-third underscored the difficulty of the case.


“It shows civil rights violations should be taken seriously,” Lozada said. “More attorneys should take on these cases. And hopefully more plaintiffs come forward for attorneys to take on these cases.”

Between the settlements for the trio and the attorney’s fees, the county is now liable for roughly $2 million. The county has also been paying Seattle firm Keating, Bucklin and McCormack for its defense.

Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy declined to say whether the county would try to take the case to the court of appeals. Medvigy did acknowledge, however, that he would like to see an appeal filed.

“You obviously know an appeal has not been filed yet,” Medvigy said. “I just hope the public can be patient and not come to any conclusions.”

The three men accused county officials of ignoring their complaints about their experiences at work.

Alanis, Hutson and Peña argued in court that they had been confronted with racist remarks for years. The three work in the county department responsible for maintaining roads, parks and other public projects.

They reported colleagues and direct supervisors called them “Manuel labor” or “the brown crew.” One coworker reportedly told them that they “worked for a white slave master.”

One coworker, who was later promoted, reportedly said he was “building a border wall” around the public works facility.

“The county had multiple opportunities to get this right by our client,” Lozada said. “Our clients complained to them multiple times. It’s our hope that the county learns its lessons and takes these complaints seriously and we hope this doesn’t happen again.”

Jurors found at least some of the men’s claims credible. The jury said the county did not violate federal civil rights laws but did break anti-discrimination laws in Washington state.

In August, the county’s attorneys asked Estudillo to try the case again. They argued the plaintiff attorneys repeatedly overstepped, such as asking improper questions during cross-examination.

Estudillo denied the county’s request in September.