JEFFERSON CITY – Lawsuits against the state of Missouri cost taxpayers at least $23 million last year, according to a new report from Attorney General Josh Hawley.
A year-end report from Hawley, a Republican, showed that 16 of the 45 major payouts were related to employee discrimination, including six from cases involving workers at the Missouri Department of Corrections, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The report found the state paid out nearly $8.1 million in claims for employment discrimination and harassment by supervisors and co-workers.
The actual total may be higher. Democratic state Auditor Nicole Galloway, in a separate report, has cited millions of more dollars in legal expense at agencies that use their own attorneys in lawsuits.
Galloway's audit found the Missouri Department of Transportation settled 13 employment claims worth $3.6 million as part of an overall $10.8 million in payouts from January 2015 through last March; the University of Missouri reported 27 medical liability claims and 213 other claims paid on settlements or judgments totaling more than $17 million.
Citing the need to boost transparency, Hawley in 2017 began voluntarily reporting monthly tallies of how much the state paid out in legal expenses to people who have sued Missouri. House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, a Democrat from Kansas City, is sponsoring legislation that would make the report mandatory instead of voluntary.
McCann Beatty said she filed the legislation "in response to the vast history of massive settlements that have gone through the legal expense fund without public disclosure."
Among the largest payouts last year was a $5.5 million judgment against Harris Stowe State University in St. Louis. In that case, Beverly Wilkins said she was repeatedly passed over for promotions because she was a white professor at a predominantly black institution.
Another large payout went to Bradley Freidel, who was injured in 2015 when his car was struck by a Missouri State Highway Patrol car from behind as Freidel slowed to avoid hitting an animal near Moberly. Records show Freidel received a $4.3 million settlement.