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7 ex-Las Vegas water agency workers collected $559K in settlement

Seven former Las Vegas Valley Water District employees shared a $559,000 payout to settle an age discrimination lawsuit against the utility, according to once-confidential court documents obtained by the Review-Journal.

The water district admitted no liability or guilt as part of the settlement agreement.

The employees sued after they were laid off in 2014 as part of 101-person staff reduction at the district and its umbrella agency, the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Stephen Acheampong, Beatriz Bordelois, Philip Halverson, Steven Jackson, Robert Morgan, Nikolas Taranik and Paul Jahn each received between $26,800 and $64,000. Their attorney, Matthew Callister, was paid $205,101.

District spokesman Bronson Mack said in an email that the settlement was paid out through an insurance policy the agency has maintained since 1997 to cover itself from lawsuits over its employment practices.

Mack said the insurance provider, Zurich American Insurance Co., made the decision to settle the case, so no action was required by the Clark County Commission, which serves as the water district’s board of directors.

The utility had to cover the $100,000 deductible on its insurance policy, but no other funds from the district or the authority were used in the settlement, Mack said.

The original group of plaintiffs included 16 people who referred to themselves in their lawsuit as the “Senior Sixteen.” They accused the two public agencies of dismissing them as they approached retirement age and filling their jobs with less-experienced, lower-paid workers.

They also said they were targeted because they were potential “whistleblowers” who knew about several “debacles” by top management that collectively cost the the water agencies more than $150 million.

According to the lawsuit, one involved the district’s decision to buy and install electronic meter readers across the valley only to discover that the technology did not work as advertised. The other was the authority’s acquisition and operation of seven ranching operations in White Pine County’s Spring Valley as part of a controversial plan to siphon groundwater from across rural eastern Nevada.

The case was originally filed in Clark County District Court, then moved to federal court.

A federal judge in Las Vegas officially dismissed the lawsuit last month after the settlement was reached.

District officials initially declined to discuss the confidential agreement but later provided a copy to the Review-Journal after the newspaper requested it under the Freedom of Information Act.

The “Senior Sixteen” became 15 earlier this year, when U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey ruled in favor of the water district in a separate lawsuit brought by Lyndalou Bullard. Dorsey ruled that the former employee “had no evidence to support her federal, anti-discrimination claims” and ordered her to pay the district more than $12,000 in legal costs.

It’s unclear why only seven of the remaining 15 plaintiffs were included in the settlement.

Callister did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The attorney previously declined to discuss the confidential settlement but said his clients were pleased with it.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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