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City of Eugene fails to win its appeal for officer’s dismissal

| Jun 23, 2012 | Civil Appeals |

There are certain processes that need to take place when a business fires an employee from his or her job or penalizes them for performance issues. However, in some instances, a change in employment occurs after an employee files a complaint or stands up to infractions of procedures committed by superior management. It appears that this type of retaliatory reaction occurred to an ex-officer from Eugene

The city of Eugene, Oregon, has filed a civil appeal seeking to overturn a lower court ruling requiring it to pay more than $350,000 to an ex-police officer of the city and his lawyer.

Earlier this year, a U.S. District Court jury in Eugene ruled that the city police chief and two lieutenants violated the man’s First Amendment Rights when they transferred him from one post to another and cut his pay. He claimed the move was in retaliation for his questioning of department officials about their response to several supposedly accidental discharges of powerful weapons by members of the SWAT team.

He sued the city in 2009, seeking $600,000 for compensation after being taken out of his role in the police K-9 unit and transferred to the patrol unit at a loss of $5,500 per year in salary.

The jury sided with the man, telling the city to pay him $200,000 for punitive damages and $50,000 for compensation. His attorney also was awarded more than $108,000 in attorney fees.

A city spokeswoman, however, said it won’t immediately write those checks to pay the verdict. Instead, it intends to seek a review by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Should it lose the appeal, the city will tap into its self-insurance fund.

The former officer told his story to the court in March, telling the jury of his problems with his superiors after his reports about the SWAT team. He was transferred to traffic patrol from the K-9 unit in 2008, which his bosses said stemmed not from his complaint but instead from his failure to communicate with his direct supervisor.

Attorneys for the city told the court that the man’s complaints were not covered under the First Amendment.

The attorney for the ex-officer said the city never tried to take responsibility or settle the case before going to trial. He had said immediately after the jury issued its verdict that he expected an appeal.

Source: The Register-Guard, “City to appeal verdict in favor of police officer,” Jack Moran, June 14, 2012