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Settlement fails; bias case heads to trial

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Attempts at settlement have failed for a former probation officer suing the 3rd District Juvenile Court for racial discrimination.

Joann R. Berzett, who is black, contends her civil rights were violated by co-workers and supervisors. She says they discriminated against her and forced her to work in a racially hostile environment. She ultimately was fired from the job.The suit was filed in February 1996. Attorneys tried and failed to reach an out-of-court settlement, sending the case to trial Dec. 8 in U.S. District Court.

Berzett, 46, Ogden, worked for the juvenile court for almost one year. For the first four months, things went well.

"Then I started to hear racial comments like I was inept because I was black, not so overt, but subtle enough that I felt constrained," Berzett said. She received a positive evaluation in May of the year she was fired.

She was fired and has tried unsuccessfully to gain similar employment. She now works for the Utah School for the Deaf and Blind.

Her attorney, Bel-Ami de Montreux, is asking that her employment file be expunged because it isn't accurate and is being used to thwart her job search. He is also asking the court to reimburse Berzett for lost wages and to compensate her for the violation of her civil rights.

Berzett said her supervisor discriminated against her based on her race and made her work conditions unbearable. She says the supervisor tried to use a medical leave she took for two operations as proof she abused her leave privileges, as well as making up other allegations against her.

In court documents, defense attorneys say Berzett was fired because she was habitually late, abused medical leave and was "deficient" in work performance. The Attorney General's Office, which is defending the court, also alleges that Berzett used court stationery for personal use and made long-distance phone calls at work and then failed to reimburse the court for the costs until the money was garnished from her paycheck.

Berzett began working as a probation/counselor officer in November 1992. She was still considered on one-year probation when she was fired in October 1993, two weeks before the probationary period ended.

Berzett, who moved to Utah from Texas in 1991, said she enjoyed the job and things went smoothly for the first few months until she started having communication problems with her supervisor.

"The next thing I know I start getting these nasty insinuations like I'm lying all the time," Berzett said. "I was feeling like I couldn't work with her."

She asked for a transfer to work with children on Utah probation from other states, but the job was given to someone else.