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Jury Awards $1 Million to Former Peekskill Housing Director

A Federal court jury for the Southern District of New York awarded a $1 million settlement Wednesday to Gheevarghese “Thomas” Thankachan, who was fired from his position as executive director of the Peekskill Housing Authority in 2007.

Thankachan's lawsuit, filed shortly after losing his job by the law firm Sussman and Watkins of Goshen, N.Y., alleged he was the victim of racial discrimination by Leesther Brown, Housing Authority acting housing chairperson, and the board members who voted to fire him. The suit said he was fired in a manner that was in violation of state and federal law.

The jury also awarded punitive damages totaling $250 against Brown.

Michael Sussman, a partner of the firm, said Thankachan was "ecstatic" about the jury's decision Wednesday and said it was a validation of the suit's claim of "overwhelming racism" against Thankachan.

At the time, members of the housing authority said Thankachan was fired for a number of reasons, including allowing a sex offender, people charged with unlawful substances and people with criminal records to live in city housing.

Peekskill Mayor Mary Foster said she had not seen the decision yet since she was out of town on business but said that such a fine would be a challenge for the housing authority, an independent entity run by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to deal with.

Area activist Darrell Davis of the Peekskill Committee for Justice, who was a supporter of Thankachan, said that the jury’s decision supported his claims that the housing authority was dysfunctional.

"I think this verdict says a lot about the politics surrounding the Peekskill Housing Authority, then and now, and proof that we were right in standing up for Thankachan," he said.

Calls to the Peekskill Housing Authority were not immediately returned. Brown declined to comment on the jury decision.

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