Jury awards former City of Memphis employee $1.1M in lawsuit after name appeared on 'blacklist'

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A jury awarded a former city of Memphis employee $1.1 million in a federal lawsuit after her name appeared on the now defunct “City Hall Blacklist.”

The list contained names of some activists and former employees who need an escort to get inside city hall. Jane Umfress said being on that list ruined her 30-year reputation.

The blacklist was abolished two years ago after it was roundly criticized by civil libertarians.

"They said I was a security threat, which I am not," said Umfress.

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Umfress worked for the city in the finance department for 30 years. She filed an EEOC complaint when her job was eliminated in February 2016.

Months later, her name was on a list of people not to be allowed inside city hall unless escorted.

“And I didn’t understand how you would put someone’s name on a list for being a former employee,” Umfress said.

The first list requiring former employees and others to be escorted into city hall was created in 2011.

Activists claim their names were put on the blacklist to push back after they staged a die-in at Mayor Strickland’s house in January 2017.

None of the activists who participated in the event were ever charged.

The Strickland administration denies this and Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings said the names of the activist should never have been on the list that required an escort to get inside city hall.

Umfress told FOX13 she was not there, and that she was never involved in any demonstration or protest.

“I never protested in front of city hall,” she said.

Wither her name on that list, Umfress said she could not find work. She sued the city and won a jury verdict for $1.1 million for backpay and violation of her civil rights by including her name on the blacklist.

Umfress is not alone. Another $20,000 settlement was paid to a federal government employee whose name was on the list in error.

"That is a total misuse of governmental power, and that is beneath what we expect of our government officials,"  Attorney Robert Spence Jr. said.

Spence told FOX13 the city could be liable for other former employees whose names might have been on that list.