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Kansas City Council approves $225,000 settlement with Michael Brooks’ former aide

IMG_Brooks_121714_JAT_07_2_1_9H3MKIPA_L94725706The Kansas City Council voted 11-1 Thursday in favor of a $225,000 settlement with former city councilman Michael Brooks’ former aide to resolve a hostile workplace complaint.

Tonia Titus was an aide to Brooks after he was elected in 2011. According to the city’s Law Department, she filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge alleging a hostile environment based on her sex and retaliation.

The Law Department recommended settling the discrimination claim for $225,000 because it said a jury could believe her allegation and the city could be subject to even higher damages and attorney fees after a trial.

The complaint is just the latest fallout from a conflict Titus had with Brooks. Last year she accused him of assaulting her in his office on Nov. 4. After she filed a police report, Titus was moved to a different job in city government.

Brooks, who is also senior pastor of Zion Grove Baptist Church, strenuously denied the allegation but opted to resign from his council office effective Jan. 2. After reviewing both sides in the police report, a special prosecutor, Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd, declined to file criminal charges Feb. 19.

Mayor Sly James said Wednesday that settling the latest complaint made sense financially.

“Where there’s smoke, a lot of times juries think there’s fire,” he said.

James said a trial could have aired all kinds of “dirty laundry” and could have ended up costing the city even more money, so it was better to pay the money and be done with it.

“It’s unfortunate, but it’s the smart thing to do from a fiscal standpoint,” he said.

Titus’ attorney, Athena Dickson, said her client “has been through an extremely difficult time, and she feels that this settlement has brought validation to her concerns.” Dickson said Titus hopes to put the ordeal behind her and requests privacy.

But Brooks’ attorney, John Picerno, said Brooks was disappointed with the city’s decision and would have preferred to fight the latest claim.

“He would rather the city not settle at all,” Picerno said. “He wanted his day in court to disprove what she’s alleging.”

Councilman Dick Davis was the lone vote against the settlement.

“I think it was excessive,” Davis said. “I don’t think the city has done anything that justifies that amount of money.”

Davis said he understood the city could have been on the hook for even more money, but he didn’t think the city was at fault for the stress in the work relationship between Brooks and Titus.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.