City of Emeryville settles discrimination suit for $2.3 million on eve of trial – Boxer & Gerson attorneys win additional $1.3 million in attorneys fees.
Oakland, Calif. B March 8, 2007 – The City of Emeryville has agreed to pay an estimated $2.3 million, as well as an additional $1.3 million in attorneys fees, to settle a discrimination and wrongful termination suit filed by Boxer & Gerson on behalf of longtime Emeryville city employee Leslie Pollard. “I am relieved to have my life and good name restored”, Pollard said.
Boxer & Gerson attorney Darci Burrell, who, with Leslie Levy, represented Pollard, said, “this ranks as one of the largest public entity settlements of an individual employment lawsuit in the state.”
The settlement announced today was tentatively reached on the eve of trial that alleged retaliation, wrongful termination and disability discrimination against the city of Emeryville and a number of individual defendants. Among the individuals sued were recently-retired City Manager John Flores, Human Resources Director, Delores Turner, and forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen Raffle.
“This settlement should send a signal to the city of Emeryville and other employers out there that retaliation for challenging racial intolerance in the workplace is not and will not be tolerated,” Burrell said. “Our client has served the city of Emeryville for 27 years and has been put through the wringer for standing up for her and others= rights to fair and equal treatment at work.”
Pollard, who 10 years ago pursued and won a union arbitration for racial discrimination against the City, was fired from her job as a planning technician in April 2005, after complaining about a number of racial comments and harassment involving a co-worker. Months prior to the termination, ex-city Manager, John Flores, and Human Resources Director, Delores Turner, placed Pollard, who had consistently received satisfactory job performance evaluations for years, on administrative leave, banned her from entering City buildings, and forced her to undergo a psychiatric “fitness for duty” examination. The city hired Dr. Stephen Raffle, a psychiatrist, who deemed her mentally unfit to work after a two and one-half hour interview and a single paper-and-pencil test. The city refused Pollard’s request that she be sent to a neutral psychiatric examiner. Raffle and the city refused to disclose to Pollard the psychological disorder that it claimed rendered her unfit to perform her job.
In her suit, Pollard alleged city management failed to address her concern of racial harassment and instead engaged in retaliatory action against her. She alleged that her firing was a direct result of a complaint she filed with the City along with two other African-American women city employees against a co-worker in early 2004 for racial harassment.
Pollard, who was the chief union steward, filed union grievances challenging the fitness for duty examination and her termination alleging, among other things, that the City was retaliating against her for years of union activism. In December 2006, the arbitrator hearing Pollard’s union grievance ruled the City violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement by sending Pollard for a “fitness for duty” examination because evidence did not support the City’s justification. The arbitrator also concluded Dr. Raffle’s medical opinion was inconsistent with Pollard’s job performance. The arbitrator ordered the City to reinstate Pollard to her position, with back pay and full benefits. W. Daniel Boone, an attorney with Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld, who represented the Service Employees International Union (“SEIU”), Local 790, and Pollard in both her successful mid-1990’s arbitration against the City and this most recent arbitration victory said, “I have known and worked with Leslie Pollard for fifteen years, through two successful legal battles with Emeryville. If anyone deserves the full vindication she has received, it is Leslie.”
“As is the right of any employee and union steward, Ms. Pollard regularly challenged actions she perceived as discriminatory and unfair,” Levy said. “She filed grievances. She wrote e-mails. She demanded responses. She held the City management accountable for following the rules and she was made to pay for performing her duties as a union leader and outspoken activist against discrimination.”
With the trial looming, the City agreed to pay Pollard an estimated $2.3 million in cash and benefits. The City will also pay $1.3 million in attorneys’ fees and costs. Had the case proceeded to trial, Flores, Turner and Raffle could have been held liable as individuals for punitive damages.
“For the sake of my fellow African-American co-workers and other minority employees, I hope management has finally learned its lesson and will do something to ensure everyone is treated fairly and that everyone will feel safe from discrimination,” Pollard said. “I am optimistic the city management will change from top to bottom.”
3/8/07 – Emeryville Settles Discrimination Lawsuit, East Bay Business Journal