The Law Offices of Gregory D. Ferguson, PC

In the News:
9/10/08
Fired officer settles racial discrimination lawsuit with Vancouver for $1.65 million
> Read more....


Recent Victories:

Trade Name Infringement
$60,000, 2013

Trade Secrets Act Violation
$67,000, 2013

Retaliation for lodging a work and safety complaint
$125,000.00, 2013

Executive employee non-competition and breach of contract
$60,000.00, 2012

Sex Discrimination/Retaliation, County Employee
$205,000.00, 2011

Age Discrimination, Wrongful Termination, County Employee
$165,000.00, 2010

Successful prosecution of a Public Records Act claim against Clark County, Washington | Herdener v. Clark County Washington, Cause No. 09-2-00751-2
$30,000 in fees & penalties, 2009

Officer Navin Sharma v. City of Vancouver et al., Race/national origin discrimination, wrongful termination,
$1.65 Million, 2008

Stock options/unpaid wages, $567,500.00, 2004

HR Analyst whistleblower,
$260,000.00, 2004.

Wrongful termination, breach of contract,
$250,000.00, 2007

Project General Manager, Stock options/unpaid wages
$247,000.00, 2004

Sgt. Randy Ostrander v. City of Ridgefield, wrongful termination/retaliation, $200,000.00, 2008

Facility Safety Manager whistleblower,
$200,000.00, 2006

Scott Sonju v. City of Vancouver, et al., City attorney/wrongful termination,
$150,000.00, 2006

Non profit agency whistleblower/wrongful termination,
$100,000.00, 2007

Successful defense to an employer suit on covenant not to compete. Vancouver Children's Therapy Center v. Early Choice Pediatric Therapy

Successful defense to an employer enforcement action on covenant not to compete against bank Vice President.

Successful enforcement of covenant not to compete, injunction against physician. McLoughlin Family Practice Group, Inc. v. Eric S. Smith, M.D.

Successful enforcement of covenant not to compete against employee starting competing business. Bosch Inspections, Inc., v. Quality First Real Estate Inspections Co., et al.

 

 

In the News

12/18/13

County employee sues over Benton hiring

01/22/13 Attorney pushes for release of records tied to ex-prosecutor
12/07/12 Fired bus driver files claim against Woodland schools
5/31/12 Ex-deputy whose son accidentally shot himself sues county
01/12/12 Ed Owens' claim against Clark County
08/08/09 County must pay, ....
05/21/09 Another officer at odds with city....
05/21/09 Fired Vancouver cop sues city
05/03/09

Police corporal sues city over public disclosure

09/10/08 Fired Officer Settles Racial Discrimination for $1.65 million
09/10/08 Fired Cop Wins $1.65 million settlement
08/26/08
Battle Ground man sues Les Schwab over dismissal
02/16/08
Ridgefield to pay fired cop $200K
03/30/07
11/23/06
Fired Policeman sues Vanouver
09/08/06
Former head of agency on aging sues
08/19/06
Whistle-blower suit set in motion
05/22/06
City to settle with ex-worker
04/21/06
Whistleblower at GPM Fired after Reporting Serious Safety Concerns

County employee sues over Benton hiring

Anita Largent alleges violations of county policy, state, federal law

By Erik Hidle, Columbian county government reporter
Published: December 18, 2013, 1:40

Anita Largent had strong words for two of her bosses on the Clark County board of commissioners Wednesday morning after she officially filed a discrimination lawsuit against the county.

“At the very least, there should have been a fair and open process to decide the next director (of environmental services),” Largent said in a press release. “Instead, what we got was a backroom deal. It’s time to say ‘enough is enough.’ It’s time for some accountability.”

The lawsuit stems from the May 1 appointment of state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, to the role of director of environmental services by Republican Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke.

Largent, who is still a manager within environmental services and served as the interim director of the department before Benton’s appointment, has alleged that the hiring of Benton “violated nearly every written county policy promising equal employment opportunity, nondiscrimination and fairness in hiring.”

The suit outlines Largent’s qualifications for the position and the fact that she wasn’t allowed the opportunity to at least apply for the job in which Benton was placed.

It also claims discrimination based on gender, as no female candidates were interviewed. It also alleges that Largent was paid less in the interim role than Benton was eventually paid despite her qualifications.

In a tort claim filed in October, Largent stated she believes the county not only violated county hiring policy, but also state law against discrimination and portions of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

That tort claim states Largent is seeking damages of at least $300,000.

After Largent’s tort claim filing, Mielke said he was surprised by the action: “This doesn’t sound like the Anita that I recommended for the interim (role).”

Madore, who has said he considers Benton a friend, went on a local television news program and likened putting Largent in charge of the department to “taking a person who’s really good at changing spark plugs, and making her the head of the whole dealership.”

Largent’s attorney, Greg Ferguson, stated in a press release that Largent has a “master’s degree and over 23 years of relevant work experience as a director.” Ferguson then responded to Madore’s critique of Largent’s skills.

“My response to that is: hiring a pro-business career politician and motivational speaker to promote healthy ecosystems and protect our county watershed is like, well, hiring a pro-business career politician and motivational speaker to promote healthy ecosystems and protect our county watershed,” he said. “It seems that while a couple of these guys are in office, the ‘womenfolk’ won’t be doing any of the people’s really important work.”

Also in the press release, Largent says she hopes her lawsuit changes the county for the better.

“Clark County’s written commitment to equal employment opportunity should actually mean something,” Largent said. “I hope that, if nothing else, this case can be a vehicle for some of that needed ‘transparency’ that the commissioners keep telling us we are lacking,” said Largent. “Hopefully, it can change things for the better.”

Commissioners have instituted a policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation.

Trade Name Infringement
$60,000, 2013

Trade Secrets Act Violation
$67,000

Attorney pushes for release of records tied to ex-prosecutor
Jeffrey Holmes resigned in June amid accusations that he solicited prostitutes

By Paris Achen
Columbian Staff Reporter
Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A defense attorney, seeking to review convictions won by a discredited former Clark County prosecutor, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Clark County Superior Court against the county for the immediate disclosure of police reports related to the prosecutor's alleged misconduct.

Portland attorney Neil Anderson submitted a public records request Aug. 29 to the Clark County Sheriff's Office for all police reports regarding former prosecutor Jeffrey W. Holmes that relate to allegations that he solicited prostitutes.

Anderson filed the lawsuit after a more than four-month delay of the release of certain records and after seeking an opinion from the state Attorney General's Office that the records should be disclosed. He claimed Holmes is receiving preferential treatment as a result of his former position with the county.

"(The county) is taking a different position on this case than they have in past cases," said Greg Ferguson, Anderson's attorney.

Holmes, who was a Clark County prosecutor for six years, resigned in June as a result of a criminal investigation into accusations that he solicited prostitutes. He entered into a diversion agreement Aug. 2 after being accused of a misdemeanor, attempting to patronize a prostitute. The agreement required him to undergo counseling, perform 24 hours of community service and pay a $350 fine. The charge will be dismissed if he remains crime-free until August.

The county provided some of the requested records to Anderson on Oct. 16, Oct. 25 and Nov. 5 but has not yet released other records after Holmes objected to their disclosure.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lori Volkman gives legal opinions to public officials and county departments on public records requests. She explained that some county offices have a practice of giving notice to third parties who might be affected by the disclosure of public records and allowing them the opportunity to file for a protection order to stop the disclosure based on a right to privacy. (State law doesn't require agencies to give third-party notice, but the law allows for it.)

Holmes was notified Dec. 10 that some records containing sensitive information would be released to Anderson on Dec. 28, Volkman said. Holmes requested a 90-day extension to consider seeking a protection order to stop release of the records. In a Dec. 28 letter to Anderson, MaryAnn Gentry, a sheriff's public records supervisor, informed Anderson that Holmes had been granted a 90-day extension and that a response to Anderson's request would be provided by March 1.

"The county afforded Mr. Holmes with preferential or more favorable treatment than other affected third parties in that the county has never in recent history allowed 90 or more days to any citizen to restrain the release of public records," Anderson's complaint stated.

Volkman said the letter from Gentry was in error. She said Holmes was given only a 60-day extension.

Volkman said Holmes was given the extension due to the volume of the records and the intimate information they contained. She said she also wanted to spare the county a potential lawsuit by Holmes for releasing the records.

Anderson asked the state Attorney General's Office to issue an opinion. On Jan. 3, Tim Ford, assistant attorney general for government accountability, responded in a letter that "Clark County's grant of a 90-day delay for the third party to obtain a restraining order seems excessive by comparison to what the attorney general's model rules recognize as a standard delay among agencies." The practice of many agencies is to allow 10 days for a third party to respond, he wrote.

However, Ford noted that the model rules aren't binding, even though agencies "have a duty to promptly disclose records."

"Clark County may have a valid reason for why a 90-day delay is necessary," he wrote. Without that information, he concluded he couldn't issue an opinion and stated that Anderson had the option to challenge the county in court.

Volkman said she has received a request from Holmes to redact parts of the records and will have a meeting Thursday about the request. She said she would know Friday whether all of the records could be released. If Holmes continues to object, the matter may have to go to court, she said.

Holmes didn't immediately return a phone call to The Columbian seeking comment on the public records dispute.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts; http://facebook.com/ColTrends; paris.achen@columbian.com.

Fired bus driver files claim against Woodland schools

By Tyler Graf
Columbian staff writer
Friday, December 7, 2012

A former Woodland School District bus driver fired in October for refusing to follow a district policy on where she picked up a student took a step toward fighting her termination Friday.

Jolleen Washburn, a nine-year bus driving veteran, served the district with a tort claim, a precursor to a civil suit. The claim notifies the school district that Washburn plans to sue for wrongful termination.

The district fired Washburn after she refused to pick up a kindergartner from in front of his grandmother's house. She said the location was too close to an intersection she thought was unsafe. Instead, she picked up the child several yards away.

In the claim, Washburn's attorney, Greg Ferguson, writes that the district conducted "no meaningful investigation" into whether the bus stop was safe. He accuses district administrators of spreading untruths and conspiring to fire Washburn quickly.

Following Washburn's termination in October, school district administrators said she had repeatedly failed to follow the school district's policies.

They argued that Washburn's alternative location — near the side of Lewis River Road near a ditch — was less safe than the spot administrators had chosen, which was near a driveway.

Representatives from the school district were not immediately available for comment.

Washburn is seeking reinstatement to her prior bus driver position and route with back pay.

Ex-deputy whose son accidentally shot himself sues county
He says he was fired for questioning safety of gun safes

By Paul Suarez
Columbian Staff Reporter
Thursday, May 31, 2012

A former Clark County sheriff's deputy on Thursday filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the county. Ed Owens alleges he was fired for questioning the safety of gun safes issued by the sheriff's office after his 3-year-old son got into a safe and accidentally shot himself.

Owens was fired Nov. 29, 2011, over violations relating to the accidental fatal shooting of his 3-year-old son, Ryan.

Owens is now seeking reinstatement to the sheriff's office and monetary compensation for lost wages and damage to his reputation, his attorney Gregory Ferguson said in a press conference Thursday.

"This case is about a conspiracy," Ferguson told reporters. Owens was vilified by the sheriff's internal affairs investigation and branded a liar, he said.

Owens' son accidentally shot and killed himself in the family's Battle Ground home on Sept. 14, 2010.

Investigators said Owens tried to blame his son's death on his stepdaughter and coerced a false confession out of her, police reports said.

Owens said coercion claims are "a blatant lie."

Instead, Owens asserts he was fired for filing complaints about the gun safes.

Owens was told to let it go. When he kept on asking questions, the internal affairs investigation was launched, Ferguson alleged.

Owens claims he didn't know the safe was defective at the time of his son's death. He did say he jiggled the handle to make sure it was locked, just like he would with his front door handle before leaving the home. The sheriff's office said he knew the safe didn't work and should have reported the problem.

"One of my mistakes is I trusted my employer supplied me with a reliable piece of equipment," he said.

Once he heard the safe was defective, Owens started looking into the problem. He claims Sheriff Garry Lucas refused to have the safes tested and backed out of a promise made to Deputy Sheriff Guild leaders to have the safes tested.

A similar safe made by the same manufacturer, Stack-On, was recalled in 2004.

Sheriff's Chief Criminal Deputy Mike Evans in an earlier interview said not one of the department's safes was a part of the recall and no other employees reported problems with their safes.

Owens and Ferguson hired a lock expert, Marc Weber Tobias, who demonstrated to reporters how a safe similar to the one issued to Owens could be unlocked by dropping it a few inches.

The safe opened several times after being dropped a few inches to the ground.

"This safe can be bounced open," he said, blaming the problem on a faulty lock system.

Ferguson claims he and Owens uncovered public records that show the sheriff's office heard reports of malfunctioning safes after Ryan's death and had the units destroyed.

Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Bronson Potter said Thursday afternoon he heard the lawsuit was filed but hadn't seen the complaint yet.

Sheriff Lucas and Chief Deputy Evans also were named as defendants in the suit.

The sheriff's office is not making any comments, citing the pending litigation, spokesman Sgt. Fred Neiman said.

ED Owen's claim against Clark County

January 1, 2012
Source: Greg Ferguson, attorney

Former Clark County Sheriff's Detective Ed Owens has filed a tort claim against the county alleging improper termination of employment.

Download PDF here

County must pay, release records
Employee's attorney wanted documents as part of harassment suit

Employee's attorney wanted documents as part of harassment suit
By Stephanie Rice
Columbian staff writer
Clark County will pay $30,000 for violating public disclosure laws.

An agreement was signed Friday to pay Vancouver attorney Greg Ferguson and his client, Mary Herdener, a county employee.

Ferguson sued the county this year for violating disclosure laws after the county refused to turn over documents he wanted for a separate lawsuit he filed on Herdener's behalf in October 2008. That suit named as defendants Clark County, the county's Arthur D. Curtis Children's Justice Center, and Mary Blanchette, the center's executive director.

That lawsuit, which is headed to trial, alleges discrimination and retaliation.

After the county hired investigator Jill Goldsmith to look into Herdener's discrimination claims, Ferguson filed a public disclosure request to get more information on the county's dealings with Goldsmith to discern whether she was impartial.

He was denied the records by the Clark County Prosecutor's Office, which cited attorney-client privilege.

But in a deposition, Human Resources Director Francine Reis said the county hired Goldsmith knowing she'd testify on the county's behalf.

On May 19, Judge Robert Lewis ruled that the county improperly invoked the privilege exemption.

Deputy Prosecutor Lori Volkman said Friday that attorneys take advantage of the fact that county records are subject to public records laws.

"We protected what we believed were privileged documents, and unfortunately public disclosure law has steadily invaded that privilege. I question advising my clients on confidential matters in writing anymore, for fear of public disclosure," she wrote in a statement. "The attorney-client privilege was created to avoid this very situation."

In the ongoing harassment lawsuit, Herdener, 54, program coordinator at the Children's Justice Center, alleges she has suffered since rejecting advances from Blanchette.

Herdener has worked for six years as program coordinator and spent eight years before that as a victims' advocate with the Clark County Prosecutor's Office. According to the lawsuit, Herdener always had strong performance evaluations but was in danger of losing her job after rejecting sexual advances from Blanchette, who was hired in 2007.

When Herdener took her concerns to the human resources department, Blanchette was immediately tipped off in violation of the county's policy on confidentiality, Ferguson alleges.

The county has said there was insufficient evidence to support Herdener's retaliation complaint.

On May 4, Herdener was placed on paid administrative leave. In a letter from Reis, Herdener was faulted for not agreeing to be interviewed by Goldsmith, who concluded that Herdener's "work performance has not met established plans and expectations."

Ferguson said Friday he'll ask for a seven-day trial to be scheduled in November or December.

Another officer at odds with city
Policeman says he plans to sue over suspension

By Jeffrey Mize
Columbian staff writer
Another Vancouver cop has signaled his intent to sue the city on the grounds he suffered retaliation and intimidation for offering sworn testimony in favor of Officer Navin Sharma.

The city says the officer was placed on leave for failing to store evidence and causing a criminal case to be dropped.

Cpl. Randy Braaksma says he was unjustly booted off the SWAT team and, just last week, placed on paid administrative leave.

Braaksma filed a tort claim with Vancouver Friday afternoon, which begins a 60-day waiting period. During that time, the city could settle the claim, deny the allegations or do nothing. Once the 60 days are over, Braaksma can pursue his case in court.

His attorney is Greg Ferguson, the same Vancouver lawyer who represents former Officer Chris Kershaw. Two months ago, Kershaw alleged he was unfairly fired for speaking up on Sharma’s behalf.

Ferguson also was co-counsel in Sharma’s discrimination lawsuit, which resulted in the city and its former insurer, AIG, paying a $1.65 million settlement. It also led to several acrimonious city council meetings, where Sharma supporters alleged that top city officials had conspired against the former cop.

The tort claim filed Friday describes Braaksma as a police officer with "a previously unblemished performance record and numerous accolades for distinguished service."

The claim says the corporal was "stripped of his gun and badge" on Feb. 13, "ostensibly" for failing to properly log evidence related to a 2007 case that was never prosecuted.

"The next day, a copy of the declaration Braaksma had signed in the Sharma case was found lying in the open at VPD’s west precinct," the claim says.

Pat Buchanan, an attorney with the Patterson Buchanan Fobes Leitch & Kalzar law firm in Seattle that represents the city, confirmed that Braaskma has been placed on paid leave pending an internal affairs investigation. But she offered a different version of events leading to that decision.

In 2007, Braaskma documented that he had entered drugs, a laptop computer and forged checks as evidence, Buchanan said. But when a prosecutor tried to find the items, it was determined that Braaskma had never logged them into the evidence room, she said.

"On Feb. 7, he was able to retrieve them from somewhere and submit them to the evidence room," Buchanan said. "No one knows where it was for two years. Therein lives the basis for the paid leave and the investigation."

Because of the gap, the prosecutor was forced to drop the case, she said.

Friday’s claim represents the latest volley in the still unfolding aftermath of the Sharma case.

Earlier this month, Vancouver emphatically denied the allegations made in Kershaw’s claim. Mike Patterson, who works in the same Seattle law firm as Buchanan, said Kershaw was fired for poor performance and lying to his supervisors. He said there was no evidence to indicate he faced retaliation for speaking up on Sharma’s behalf.

On Friday, Buchanan denied there was any retaliation against Braaskma.

"It’s unfortunate that some officers who are either being disciplined or investigated are falling back on this as a reason," she said.

Also on Friday, Ferguson’s law offices released a Feb. 11 letter from the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission saying there is insufficient evidence for the commission to revoke Kershaw’s officer certification.

Buchanan the commission has a higher standard of proof, requiring "clear, cogent and convincing evidence," than what Vancouver police rely on for internal affairs investigations.

As part of the ongoing upheaval following the Sharma settlement, the city intends to hire Matrix Consulting Group of Palo Alto, Calif., to review the police department, particularly its internal affairs and disciplinary procedures.


Jeffrey Mize: 360-735-4542 or jeff.mize@columbian.com.

Fired Vancouver cop sues city

Thursday, May 21 | 4:31 p.m.
BY STEPHANIE RICE
AND JEFFREY MIZE
COLUMBIAN STAFF WRITERS

Seeking an unspecified amount of money and to win back the job he lost nearly 14 months ago, a former Vancouver police officer filed a lawsuit Thursday in Clark County Superior Court.

Chris Kershaw, 41, claims he was fired for speaking up on behalf of former Officer Navin Sharma — who later won a $1.65 million discrimination settlement from the city — and unfairly singled out so the city could claim a white officer received the same treatment as Sharma, a native of India.

Kershaw, an Iraq War veteran, said Thursday that since his April 1, 2008, termination he has re-enlisted in the U.S. Army and is working in real estate with his wife. The couple has a 15-year-old son, and Kershaw said he re-enlisted so he could afford health insurance for his family.

His suit seeks compensation for back pay and lost benefits, as well as money for emotional distress and humiliation.

"This is all about righting the wrongs the city has done," Kershaw said. "And it's about me getting my job back."

In addition to the city, the suit names City Attorney Ted Gathe and Assistant Police Chief Nannette Kistler as defendants. Kistler, then a commander, was "directly involved" in firing Sharma in 2006 and Kershaw in '08 and the ultimate calls were made by Gathe, said Greg Ferguson, a Vancouver attorney who, with Portland attorney Michael Wise, filed the lawsuit.

In early February, the city's Seattle law firm denied the tort claim Kershaw filed 60 days earlier giving notice of his intent to sue the city for allegedly violating employment law.

At that time, attorney Mike Patterson said Kershaw was fired for poor performance and lying to his supervisors.

Patterson, reached by telephone Thursday, said the lawsuit does not change the city's position.

"Let's put it this way," he said. "There is nothing that is new, and we stand by our previous denial of the claim."

Kershaw faced no retaliation for offering testimony supporting Sharma, Patterson said.

"We just don't believe there is any substantiation to the claim that somehow we retaliated against Mr. Kershaw for his support of Mr. Sharma," he said. "In our investigation, there was no evidence to give credence to that."

Another one of the contentions in Kershaw's lawsuit, that the city targeted him in part to demonstrate it treated white officers as shabbily as minority ones, is "totally unfounded," Patterson said.

According to Kershaw's lawsuit, the officer "had not been subjected to any type of formal discipline … prior to Officer Sharma filing his federal civil rights and racial harassment lawsuit in November 2006."

Kershaw, who received a Medal of Valor for rushing in to help Cpl. Christopher LeBlanc when LeBlanc was shot during a July 2007 SWAT standoff, was retaliated against after being identified as one of seven officers who was going to testify on Sharma's behalf, according to the lawsuit.

City officials have always denied wrongdoing in Sharma's firing, but have said their former insurer, AIG, decided to settle to end costly litigation. Sharma was fired for making mistakes on drunken driving reports, but his attorneys have said they were minor errors.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4549 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.

 

Police corporal sues city over public disclosure

Stephanie Rice Columbian staff writer   
May 3, 2009

Fallout from the $1.65 million discrimination settlement with former Vancouver Police Officer Navin Sharma continued Friday, this time in the form of a public disclosure lawsuit against the city. Attorney Greg Ferguson filed the suit in Clark County Superior Court on behalf of police Cpl. Randy Braaksma, who on Feb. 20 filed a tort claim against the city.

In the claim, Braaksma said he was placed on paid administrative leave Feb. 13 in retaliation for offering sworn testimony in the Sharma case.

The city denied the allegations, saying Braaksma was placed on leave pending the outcome of an investigation into his handling of evidence in a criminal case.
In Friday's lawsuit, Ferguson said the city, in response to records requests, produced either heavily redacted copies or none at all.
Ferguson wants a judge to order the city to comply with the records requests and assess a penalty of $80 to $100 a day for each day the records were withheld.
No court date has been set. The city's attorneys have 20 days to respond.
The Braaksma case is just one in a series of conflicts rippling through the police department.
Ferguson, who was co-counsel in the Sharma case, also represents former Officer Chris Kershaw. Kershaw filed a claim in December that alleged he was fired for speaking up for Sharma. The city has denied the claim.

Both Braaksma and Kershaw have three years to file lawsuits against the city, Ferguson said. The problems within the police department have not gone unnoticed at City Hall.

The city has hired Matrix Consulting Group of Palo Alto, Calif., to review the police department, particularly its internal affairs and disciplinary procedures.

In March, the Vancouver Police Officers Guild issued a nine-page "statement of guild concerns," that accused police managers of favoritism, cronyism and disparate treatment.

There has even been at least one public dispute among guild members.

The 183-member guild represents officers, corporals and sergeants.
In February, Officer Julie Ballou filed a lawsuit against the guild in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. She claims the guild failed to adequately represent her when she accused a sergeant of sexual harassment in 2007.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4549 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.

 

Fired officer settles racial discrimination lawsuit with Vancouver for $1.65 million

by Holley Gilbert, The Oregonian
Tuesday September 09, 2008, 10:00 PM

BENJAMIN BRINK/THE OREGONIAN"Law enforcement has always been my dream career," says Navin Sharma. He hopes to return to policing after winning a settlement from Vancouver in his 2006 firing.

VANCOUVER -- Vancouver has agreed to pay a former police officer $1.65 million to settle a federal lawsuit he filed two years ago claiming his 2006 firing for making errors in reports was motivated by retaliation and racial discrimination.

Navin K. Sharma and the city reached the settlement during a mandatory mediation session Thursday, six weeks before the case was set for trial in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. The agreement -- which Sharma's attorneys called the Northwest's largest-ever individual settlement for employment discrimination -- was announced Tuesday.

In the settlement, the city admitted no wrongdoing, said Edwin A. Harnden, the Portland attorney who represented Vancouver. But faced with the possibility of at least $1.2 million in attorneys' fees and a trial that would keep police officers in a courtroom for two or three weeks instead of on the street, the settlement was an economic decision, he said.

Attorneys for the India-born Sharma -- Gregory D. Ferguson of Vancouver and Scott C. G. Blankenship of Seattle -- called it the "hardest-fought" case in their combined 30-year careers. Money aside, the settlement restores Sharma's integrity, reputation and ability to work in law enforcement, elements that were crucial to any pretrial agreement, they said during a news conference.

"I think we got him justice," Blankenship said, calling his client a "model police officer."

An emotional Sharma said the settlement restores his dignity. He said he has been working as an emergency-room nurse in Portland, where he lives, but wants to return to police work.

"Law enforcement has always been my dream career," said Sharma, 52. The most difficult challenge will be to convince an agency that he is who he is, not who he was accused of being, he said.

Under the settlement, Sharma agreed not to seek employment with Vancouver, Harnden said.

Sharma's September 2006 dismissal came after an eight-month internal affairs investigation into errors and the use of repetitive language in his drunken-driving arrest reports.

Other traffic officers testified in depositions that they had made similar mistakes but were not disciplined and a Washington State Patrol investigator concluded the errors were nothing more than "a training issue," Ferguson said.

In his dismissal letter to Sharma, then-Acting Chief Mitch Barker, who remains assistant chief, said Sharma violated department policies on making false statements, completing reports accurately, and being competent to do his job.

After Sharma's firing, the city sent a letter to the Clark County prosecutor's office asking it to pursue criminal charges against him. Prosecutor Art Curtis said in a deposition that he did not file charges because the city had not done a criminal investigation as required and he did not think any crime had been committed, Ferguson and Blankenship said.

Sharma's lawsuit named the city, Barker and City Manager Pat McDonnell as defendants. The settlement must be approved by the City Council; it has not been scheduled for a vote.

Ferguson said he thinks the case could have far-reaching effects on how police officers and possibly other city employees are treated. It may also encourage any employee to report harassment or abuse, he said.

"The most telling thing about this case was the support Officer Sharma had from his co-officers in the guild, the rank and file he worked with for eight years prior to being fired," Ferguson said.

"If an officer, much less an officer of color, can be this vulnerable to being terminated for something so petty as cut-and-paste errors in his DUI reports, no officer, no officer in this city could feel comfortable with his career and with the ability to support his or her family without consistency in the way the rules are applied," Ferguson said.

Had the case gone to trial, at least 30 police officers and five to 10 former city attorney's office employees were ready to testify for Sharma, Ferguson said.

Court documents outline "an eight-year vendetta toward Sharma that began with race discrimination allegations" he lodged against the city in a 2000 federal lawsuit, Sharma's attorneys said in a prepared statement.

In a 2001 settlement, the city admitted no wrongdoing but paid Sharma, who had never been disciplined, $287,000. He stayed on the job, turning down an additional $200,000 if he resigned within four years, until his firing Sept. 20, 2006.

Blankenship said he hopes the settlement would lead to a Police Department citizens review panel to monitor internal affairs investigations and the discipline of officers.

McDonnell said he would review the case and "look at a number of things that may or may not need to be changed." Areas of focus will include communication, documentation and training.

"I'll use it to learn," he said.

-- Holley Gilbert; holleygilbert@news.oregonian.com

 

Fired cop wins $1.65 million settlement.

Wednesday, September 10 | 11:25 a.m.
By STEPHANIE RICE AND JEFFREY MIZE, COLUMBIAN STAFF WRITERS

Fired Cop wins $1.65 millions settlement!

Navin Sharma, center, and his attorneys talk Tuesday about his $1.65 million settlement with the city. (Troy Wayrynen/The Columbian)

Vancouver will pay former police Officer Navin K. Sharma $1.65 million to end a federal racial discrimination lawsuit under terms of a settlement announced Tuesday.

Sharma, 52, was fired in 2006 for making errors in drunken driving reports. But his attorneys claimed the errors were inadvertent mistakes not meriting termination. They said Sharma had been targeted for retaliation and had endured taunts about his East Indian ethnicity ever since getting labeled as a snitch in 1998 for testifying against two sergeants in an internal affairs investigation.

As a condition of the settlement, Sharma’s personnel file will be changed to say he retired. City Manager Pat McDonnell will write a letter thanking Sharma for outstanding service.

“This has been a difficult and emotional fight,” Sharma said at a news conference Tuesday, adding it was not just about money.

“It was about integrity and justice,” he said.

His trial had been scheduled to start in six weeks in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. Sharma’s attorneys said they settled only because the city agreed to restore Sharma’s record.

One of Sharma’s attorneys, Scott Blankenship, said the settlement ranked as the largest reported discrimination settlement involving a single plaintiff in the Pacific Northwest. It was reached last week in Seattle at the end of mandatory pretrial mediation conducted by attorney John Aslin.

The Vancouver City Council is expected to formally approve the settlement Sept. 22.

McDonnell said Tuesday that Vancouver settled to avoid further litigation costs and more disruption to the police department. He declined to respond when asked if the city made mistakes in Sharma’s case, but he does plan on undertaking some type of review.

“Obviously, there are going to be a lot of lessons,” McDonnell said. “But before I just jump to conclusions, I need to spend some time going through the pieces.”

That process could be more than an internal review.

“I think we may need to bring in outside folks to give us different eyes on how we view things,” McDonnell said. “I’m not saying what that is, what changes will be made. I don’t know. I just know I have to set up a system to look at this. I have to do that.”

McDonnell said he “absolutely” has confidence in the police department.

“I still think we have one of the finest departments in the state, not just the state but I would say the country,” he said.

Portland attorney Ed Harnden, who represented the city, said Vancouver is self-insured for the first $1 million in liability, with an additional $20 million worth of coverage through AIG.

Vancouver likely would have spent $1 million on attorney fees, expert witnesses, consultants and other legal costs had the case gone to trial and a likely post-trial appeal, Harnden said.

The city has spent roughly $325,000 litigating the case, which will be counted against its $1 million deductible. That means Vancouver will pay $675,000 to Sharma and his attorneys out of the city’s self-insured risk fund, with AIG picking up the remaining $975,000 of the $1.65 million settlement.

Officers would have testified

Had the case gone to trial, Sharma’s attorneys said jurors would have heard unflattering testimony about Southwest Washington’s largest law enforcement agency.

Attorney Greg Ferguson said he would have called more than 30 of the department’s approximately 200 officers, from rank and file to command staff, to testify that Sharma was singled out and treated unfairly.

“He told the truth as he knew it, and for that, he endured several years of backlash, retaliation and unfair treatment,” Corporal Randy Braaksma wrote in an affidavit filed with the court. “I personally observed officers who were engaged in active conversations with Officer Sharma (who) would stop talking with him and disengage whenever VPD command administrative staff walked by.”

After Sharma was fired by Acting Chief Mitch Barker, the city referred the case to the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to see if Sharma’s errors were criminal in nature. Prosecutor Art Curtis, in a deposition, said no crime had been committed.

Sharma’s errors were caused by “cutting and pasting” language from a template used to write reports on standard drunken driving arrests.

In affidavits, officers said cutting-and-pasting was common practice and none of Sharma’s supervisors even noticed the errors.

“I know that none of those supervisors were ever questioned or held accountable,” Sgt. Daryl Tryon wrote. “Officer Sharma was the only one disciplined and then later threatened with criminal prosecution.”

The officers’ affidavits included examples of other officers who allegedly broke rules, acted unprofessionally or lied to internal affairs investigators but were never fired. Examples included an officer who used his city-issued camera — meant to be used to document domestic violence injuries — to take pictures of the breasts of women who flashed him during a police call to a nightclub.

Ferguson said he would have asked the officers to testify about these examples at trial.

Two previous settlements

Sharma had twice before settled out-of-court after filing claims related to his employment.

In 2001, the city paid $287,000 to settle a claim that Sharma had been harassed since his 1998 testimony in an internal affairs investigation about sergeants John Chapman and Scott Creager. They were ordered to attend “corrective counseling” for unprofessional behavior at a domestic-violence training session at the YWCA.

A transcript of Sharma’s supposedly confidential testimony was distributed, and he was labeled a snitch.

The city offered Sharma an additional $200,000 if he would leave, but he wanted to keep his job.

A few years later, Sharma received $90,000 in a settlement from Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency. Some 911 dispatchers had mocked Sharma by broadcasting a recording of a speaker with an East Indian accent over police radio frequencies.

Tryon wrote in his affidavit that the recording was derogatory and ethically demeaning: “I could not believe that someone would actually broadcast this over a law enforcement radio for all to hear. I almost quit that day in disgust.”

The 911 case spawned a second settlement. A former dispatcher who testified against co-workers in an internal affairs investigation filed a retaliation complaint. She settled in 2002 for $260,000.

Sharma, who lives in Portland with his wife, said Tuesday he has been working as an on-call trauma nurse at Providence Portland Medical Center. Sharma, who immigrated in the mid-1970s and later earned U.S. citizenship, was an emergency room nurse before being hired in 1997 by the Vancouver Police Department.

That year, he began organizing Tactical Emergency Medical Support, or TEMS, a unit that would go out on SWAT missions. It was the first police-based team in the state to offer advanced life support techniques at scenes where there’s an increased chance an officer, suspect or bystander will be hurt.

As a condition of the settlement, McDonnell will write a letter commending Sharma for pioneering the TEMS squad.

While his attorneys called for a citizens’ review panel to keep the police agency in check, Sharma’s response was more measured. He said he was grateful to officers who stepped up to support him.

“Overall, the Vancouver Police Department is an excellent agency,” he said. But, he said, there’s a “small, cancerous vein that starts at the very top” and trickles down.

“They are the ones who hold the power.”

Sharma said he would love to work in law enforcement again, but concedes it will be difficult.

He’d have to prove to a future employer that “I really am who I am, and not how I was portrayed to be.”

Battle Ground man sues Les Schwab over dismissal

by Holley Gilbert, The Oregonian
Wednesday August 27, 2008, 5:03 PM

VANCOUVER -- A Battle Ground man sued the local Les Schwab Tire Centers and its manager today, claiming he was discriminated against and wrongfully fired after he returned to work following a long illness.

Thaddius Bradford, a nearly 16-year employee at the center, is seeking unspecified damages in the lawsuit, filed in Clark County Superior Court against the company and Jeff McCrary, the Battle Ground store manager.

Jodie Hueske, Les Schwab's director of legal services and human resources, said "the company does not comment on employee-related issues."

In the lawsuit, Bradford, 37, claims he was retaliated against and harassed earlier this year when he returned after a two-month illness.

Among other claims, he alleges his managers told him his absence had "cost the company too much money" and accused him of "milking" the illness to extend his leave, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also alleges that McCrary offered to give Bradford a good recommendation if he resigned. After he declined, Bradford was terminated in "an alleged 'layoff' " in May, he claims.

-- Holley Gilbert; holleygilbert@news.oregonian.com

Ridgefield to pay fired cop $200K

DON HAMILTON Columbian staff writer  
February 16, 2008;

 

The city of Ridgefield has agreed to pay former police Sgt. Randy Ostrander $200,000 for wrongly firing him 18 months ago during a flurry of embarrassing revelations of city mismanagement. In the mediated settlement completed Friday, the city agreed to pay Ostrander for "emotional distress and damage to reputation." The agreement also reinstates Ostrander to his former post, although he will resign from the city Feb. 22, said his attorney, Gregory D. Ferguson.

The agreement also clears Ostrander's reputation before the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission, which certifies police officers, and allows him to resume his police career. Since leaving Ridgefield, Ostrander has been working as a long-haul trucker.

"I've been vindicated," Ostrander said Friday. "I'm relieved it's done and over with, and I'm looking forward to moving on to bigger and better things."

In August 2006, the department fired Ostrander, the department's second in command, claiming he'd altered police reports. Ostrander, who had been with the department for five years, said he accessed reports as part of his normal duties but never altered them.

He said the city fired him because he was trying to expose wrongdoing in city government, including the Ridgefield City Council and then-Mayor Gladys Doriot. Ostrander had been investigating the mayor's son, Orrin Doriot, who had a history of methamphetamine abuse and was living in a house owned by his mother.

In the settlement agreement, Ostrander agreed to drop his wrongful termination lawsuit against the city.

The city agreed to amend the 2006 termination notice explaining why he was fired to the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission. In a letter dated Friday, Ridgefield City Manager Justin L. Clary told the commission, "Upon further review, the city of Ridgefield has determined that there is insufficient evidence to support the initial determination." Ostrander, Clary wrote, "did not engage in any disqualifying conduct."

Clary also wrote a letter of recommendation praising Ostrander's "loyal and dedicated service, especially in a time of turmoil."

Clary could not be reached for comment Friday.

Ferguson said Ostrander's dismissal came during a time when the city suffered through a series of embarrassing revelations involving the police department, the city council and city officials. The city also faced a federal civil rights lawsuit and several independent investigations into police practices.

"Randy could have gone quietly but chose to stand and fight," Ferguson said. "When all the evidence came out, however, I think the city took a long, hard look and chose to do the right thing. The present city leaders should be commended."

From 1999 to 2001, Ostrander spent 18 months working as a security officer in Kosovo for Dyna Corp., a private company operating under a State Department contract. He said he might eventually return to international law enforcement.

First online

This story was posted at 2:42 p.m. Friday at www.columbian.com .

To view settlement documents in the case, go to www.columbian.com

Don Hamilton can be reached at 360/735-4526 and don.hamilton@columbian.com

 

Articles appear as they were originally printed in The Columbian and may not include subsequent corrections.
All materials appearing in The Columbian are protected by copyright as a collective work or compilation under U.S. copyright and other laws and are the property of The Columbian Publishing Company or the party credited as the provider of the content.


Ex-employee sues Port of Vancouver

By Jonathan Nelson
Columbian staff writer

Friday, March 30, 2007 Section: Front page, Page A1A former Port of Vancouver employee filed a lawsuit Thursday in Clark County Superior Court that alleges she was fired after raising concerns about possible bid rigging on port contracts.

Rebecca Eisiminger was terminated as a contracts officer Jan. 10 for a negative attitude and unprofessional communication style despite receiving exceptional performance reviews, the lawsuit said. Eisiminger's departure from the port came three months after she alerted officials to possible violations of state regulations that included her supervisor manipulating payments to avoid port commissioner oversight, allowing a real estate consultant to participate in port bid-related decisions that involved potential clients, letting a railroad employee possibly influence contract decisions, and being pressured to accept a proposal after the deadline passed.

Larry Paulson, port executive director, disputes Eisiminger's allegations.

"The Port of Vancouver is prepared to defend itself against the suit," Paulson said. "Other than that, this is a personnel issue and pending litigation."

Gregory Ferguson, one of Eisiminger's two lawyers, said in a press release that the case "represents the classic whistle-blower scenario. A high performer, once regarded by her superiors as a level-headed luminary, suddenly and inexplicably transforms into a pugnacious malcontent within a couple of months for no apparent reason."

The charge of contracts being doled out to people cozying up to the public agency comes as the port is dealing with a potential voter revolt after a port commission vote to raise district property taxes.

The port's property tax rate in 2008 climbs from 34 cents to about 79 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, and was implemented without a public vote, a method of raising taxes only available to ports. A citizen's petition effort is under way to force the tax increase to a public vote.

Mediation fails

Ferguson said a mediation session between port representatives and his client on Wednesday failed and that the lawsuit was filed to protect Eisiminger's future.

"As a contract officer, if you have a termination on your employment record, you have a hard time getting public employment ever again," Ferguson said.

Ferguson said Eisiminger's lost wages, benefits and earning potential from the firing easily reaches $1 million.

Court documents reveal that Eisiminger, who previously handled contracts and procurement for government jobs in Georgia and Maryland, was hired in August 2002 to oversee personal services and public works contracts. According to port performance records, she achieved the port's highest performance level in a 2005 review and the next-highest mark on an Aug. 9, 2006, evaluation. In the August narrative, it was recommended Eisiminger "look to be more creative in your approach to projects, look to create solutions and strive to operate more comfortably within the 'gray zone.' "

In October, Eisiminger reported to her supervisor, the port's internal auditor and to an outside port attorney that there was rigging of bids, the lawsuit said. The specific complaints:
* The port allowed a real estate consultant to participate in bid decisions while also marketing his firm's services to the companies submitting proposals.

* The port permitted a BNSF Railway representative to vote on a rail design solicitation. The same railroad rep had decided on and openly advocated for a firm chosen by BNSF.

* Eisiminger reported that her supervisor was withholding payments to architects and manipulating billings for work on the port's executive office expansion so that the contracts didn't exceed $100,000 - a threshold that requires approval from the port commission.

* Eisiminger says she was pressured to accept a services contract proposal from a "favored" development firm that submitted its offer after the deadline.

Arch Miller, port commissioner and president of the three-member board, said on Thursday that he didn't want to comment without getting a chance to review the allegations.

First online - This story was first posted at 7:04 p.m. Thursday at www.columbian.com .

Update

* Previously: Rebecca Eisiminger worked at the Port of Vancouver from 2002 to January.

* What' s new: She filed a wrongful termination lawsuit Thursday in Clark County Superior Court.

* What 's next: The case could go to trial.

Jonathan Nelson covers the Port of Vancouver for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-759-8013.

Fired policeman sues Vancouver

Oregonian – November 24, 2006.  METRO Section

Work - Navin K. Sharma claims his termination for errors on DUI reports was racially motivated

Thursday, November 23, 2006

HOLLEY GILBERT

VANCOUVER -- A police officer filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday claiming the city was racially motivated when it fired him in September for making errors and using repetitive language in his drunken driving reports.

The dismissal of Navin K. Sharma, a native of India, followed a six-month Vancouver Police Department internal investigation triggered by a records request from Josephine Townsend, the city's former criminal prosecutor. After Townsend was hired in 2002, she "directed and assisted" Sharma in developing a template to standardize his DUI computer reports, which she then approved, the lawsuit claims.

Townsend declined Wednesday to comment on her actions while employed by the city attorney's office. She left the city in February 2005 and at the time of her February 2006 records request was defending a DUI suspect Sharma had arrested.

ddIn her records request, Townsend sought all DUI reports Sharma wrote over a three-month period and suggested that Sharma was "recycling prior case reports," according to Vancouver police correspondence included in the internal investigation and released to The Oregonian through the Freedom of Information Act.

A police commander assigned to fulfill Townsend's request found some errors, and Sharma was put on paid administrative leave March 30, the investigation report said. The department then reviewed all of Sharma's DUI reports dating back to 2002, when he joined the traffic unit, and an investigator found errors in 116 of 158 reports.

In his Sept. 20 dismissal letter to Sharma, Acting Chief Mitch Barker said Sharma had violated department policies on making false statements, completing reports accurately and being competent to do his job.

"This investigation shows you were clearly beyond the line of acceptable, random mistakes," Barker said. Several drivers had their license revocations dismissed because of the errors, and "a number of pending DUI cases will now likely be compromised and/or dismissed," he said.

Barker told Sharma he was "left with the strong belief" that Sharma's reporting was "reckless" and "will render (him) unable to testify in future cases where (he is) the sole or primary reporting witness."

On Oct. 26, the city sent a letter to the Clark County prosecutor's office asking it to pursue criminal charges against Sharma, the lawsuit said.

Prosecutor Art Curtis on Wednesday acknowledged receipt of the letter. "We told them that if they wanted that done, it first had to be investigated by a police agency as a criminal matter, which has not been done as far as I know," Curtis said.

Sharma's lawsuit names the city of Vancouver, Barker and City Manager Pat McDonnell as defendants. Sharma, 50, is seeking, among other things, unspecified damages for lost pay, future wages and attorneys' fees and punitive damages. He is not asking to be reinstated.

"A police department without discriminatory or retaliatory motives could have considered disciplinary action other than shooting down and robbing Officer Sharma of his reputation and career," said Scott C.G. Blankenship, a Seattle attorney who, with Vancouver attorney Gregory D. Ferguson, represents Sharma.

Ted Gathe, Vancouver city attorney, declined to comment Wednesday, saying he had not seen the lawsuit. McDonnell and Barker could not be reached for comment.

dddAlso on Wednesday, Sgt. Scott Creager, president of the Vancouver Police Officers Guild, sent a memorandum to Barker saying Sharma's "self-correcting errors" did not support discipline or discharge," but might be used as "a training opportunity."

In an Aug. 28 letter to Barker, John Hoag, the guild's Eugene attorney, said Sharma's integrity has never been questioned. He said Sharma continued to make computer errors because the mistakes were not noticed by his supervisors, city prosecutor or defense attorneys.

"If every officer who made a statement in a police report that was later determined to be inaccurate were told that he or she falsified a document or somehow committed perjury, the Vancouver Police Department would be significantly smaller in size," Hoag said.

Sharma was hired by Vancouver police in 1997. In 2000, he filed a $1 million lawsuit against the city, alleging several superiors and fellow officers sabotaged his work as a special weapons team medic, pilfered his personnel file and repeatedly played a tape that disparaged his accent and heritage in retaliation for testimony he provided during a 1998 internal investigation of two police sergeants.

In a 2001 settlement, the city admitted no wrongdoing but paid Sharma $287,000. It also agreed to pay Sharma up to an additional $200,000 if he resigned in the subsequent four years. That time period ended Feb. 20, 2005.

In Sharma's dismissal letter, Barker said the investigation into Sharma's DUI reports was not "retribution for past disagreements with the city." Barker joined the Vancouver department in December 2003.


Former head of agency on aging sues

KELLY ADAMS, Columbian staff writer
September 8, 2006; Page c1

 

A manager fired by the Human Services Council filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against the agency Thursday.

Pat Janik was the director of the Southwest Washington Area Agency on Aging for more than four years when she was terminated in April 2006, three days after refusing to sign what she considered to be a "loyalty oath" to the Human Services Council. According to the lawsuit, filed in Clark County Superior Court on Thursday against the council, its governing board's president and its then-executive director, Janik was "terminated in retaliation for her complaints about improper action by defendants in connection with their mismanagement of public funds held in trust for the explicit purpose of promoting the health, safety and welfare of the elderly and adults with disabilities." 

The suit also says Janik's termination did not follow the agency's policy of progressive discipline as well as a policy against retaliation.  Terry O'Conner, interim executive director, responded by providing a report submitted Tuesday to the state Aging and Disability Services department. It was prepared on behalf of the council's board of directors.  The report addresses Janik's firing, stating she was against efforts to centralize the services provided by the agency. Her opposition threatened to impede efforts to improve the agency's efficiency, the report said  The Human Services Council document also touches on the loyalty oath.  "We suggest that while the memo was designed to clarify the organizational direction by the board and to set forth expectations of HSC's leadership, its interpretation as a 'loyalty oath' inadvertently made a bad situation worse."  The council, through the report, denied Janik's firing was retaliatory but declined to go into detail, citing the litigation. O'Conner declined any other comment besides that provided in the report.  

The lawsuit comes at a time when the agency is under scrutiny by the state. The Vancouver-based nonprofit operates the Southwest Washington Area Agency on Aging, which is mostly funded by the state with some money from the Federal Older Americans Act and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This spring, the state submitted a list of concerns to the agency. It is now considering a request from Clark County to take over the program.  "I think it's sad," Janik said of the suit and the state of the agency. "I'm worried about the clients; I'm worried about the employees."

Update  Previously: Pat Janik, the former director of the Southwest Washington Area Agency on Aging, was terminated by the Human Services Council in April. What's new: On Thursday, Janik filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against the Human Services Council and two individuals.  What's next: A court date will be set. At the same time, the state is considering a request from Clark County to take over the Southwest Washington Area Agency on Aging.

 Articles appear as they were originally printed in The Columbian and may not include subsequent corrections.
All materials appearing in The Columbian are protected by copyright as a collective work or compilation under U.S. copyright and other laws and are the property of The Columbian Publishing Company or the party credited as the provider of the content.


Whistle-blower suit set in motion

August 19, 2006; Page c1
Columbian, The (Vancouver, WA)

Author: DON HAMILTON, Columbian staff writer

Randy Ostrander, former second-in-command for the Ridgefield Police Department, laid the groundwork Friday for what could turn into an embarrassing whistle-blower lawsuit against the city. Shortly before 5 p.m. Friday, City Attorney Michael J. Wynne received a three-page letter from Ostrander's attorney disclosing plans for a lawsuit under whistle-blower statutes. The suit could be filed sometime this fall. In the letter, attorney Gregory D. Ferguson said Ostrander told city officials Wednesday that he'd been retaliated against for looking into fraud, bribery and discrimination in city government and in the police department. Ferguson said the city didn't follow through on its duty under city whistle-blower statutes to investigate Ostrander's complaint.

"The only action the city took to address the allegations presented," Ferguson wrote, "was to fire Sgt. Ostrander a mere four hours after he served written notice of those allegations on the city."

A new charge Ferguson's letter restated several recent allegations against city officials but added one new charge: It claimed city officials had thwarted Ostrander's efforts to investigate "allegations of the mayor's son's involvement in methamphetamine use and distribution from a residence owned by the mayor."

Mayor Gladys Doriot, whose daughter is a Ridgefield police officer, did not respond to a voice mail message Friday seeking her reaction to the allegation. Her son, Orrin Lee Doriot, also could not be reached for comment.

Wynne also had no comment on the letter. "I haven't had a chance to look at it in any detail," he said. "I'll send it to city officials for response. We'll go through the legal process."

The threat of a lawsuit holds the promise of more embarrassing revelations in a city that has been rocked by a series of allegations involving the police department, the city council and city officials. The city already faces a federal civil rights lawsuit and an FBI investigation, and it has been through independent investigations into police practices.

In the letter, Ferguson asked the city to reinstate Ostrander as sergeant with back pay and pay his attorney's fees. He also seeks "a thorough and transparent public inquiry into the allegations of city corruption, self-dealing, conflicts of interest, discrimination and participation in a scheme of bribes paid by developers."

Ostrander's Wednesday firing came less than a month after Chief Bruce Hall resigned after accepting the top post at the Kalama Police Department. Hall was on paid administrative leave when he quit.

Ostrander, a five-year veteran of the department, had been placed on paid administrative leave in July. City leaders have been tight-lipped about why they took the step, saying only that they were looking into allegations made against him.

His departure leaves the troubled six-member police force with three vacancies. The department had already been trying to fill two positions: a patrol officer and the school resources officer.

Ferguson called the Friday letter a "notice of retaliation," the first step in what could turn into a whistle-blower suit. He then would have to file a notice of tort claim with a lawsuit following in no fewer than 60 days.


Update -
Previously: Ridgefield fired Sgt. Randy Ostrander on Wednesday, but didn't offer specifics for his dismissal.
What's new: On Friday, Ostrander's lawyer disclosed plans to file a lawsuit under state whistle-blower statutes.
What's next: A lawsuit could come sometime this fall.
Articles appear as they were originally printed in The Columbian and may not include subsequent corrections.

All materials appearing in The Columbian are protected by copyright as a collective work or compilation under U.S. copyright and other laws and are the property of The Columbian Publishing Company or the party credited as the provider of the content.


City to settle with ex-worker

May 22, 2006
Columbian, The (Vancouver, WA)

Author: JEFFREY MIZE, Columbian staff writer

Vancouver intends to pay a former employee $150,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging he was fired after supporting a union for city attorneys.

Scott Sonju, an assistant city attorney from 1989 to 2003, signed the settlement earlier this month. The city council will be asked to approve the agreement tonight.

Council approval is almost a foregone conclusion. In recent weeks, the council has had two closed-door discussions on pending litigation. It's unlikely city officials would bring forward a proposed settlement without some indication it would receive council backing.

The settlement was reached after Sonju and the city participated in voluntary mediation with James Ladley, a retired Clark County Superior Court judge.

Sonju filed a $500,000 claim in May 2005 for wrongful termination and discrimination. He followed the claim in August with a lawsuit that sought an unspecified amount for emotional distress, humiliation and lost wages.

The lawsuit named the city of Vancouver, City Attorney Ted Gathe and former Prosecutor Josephine Townsend as defendants. Townsend replaced Sonju in 2002 as supervisor of the criminal division, which prosecutes misdemeanor crimes.

In his claim, Sonju alleged his demotion came after he advocated forming a union to address "inequitable and oppressive" working conditions in Gathe's office.

In 2003, nine assistant city attorneys formed a union as part of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees. Members subsequently voted to disband it, presumably after several union supporters left the city attorney's office.

The settlement makes no mention of the reasons behind Sonju's firing or the allegations contained in his claim or lawsuit. The document states the city is not admitting any liability by settling the lawsuit.

The settlement specifies that both Sonju and the city waive all claims arising from the dispute, even if additional facts or details emerge.

In addition, Sonju agreed to waive any rights to re-employment with the city and to not discuss the settlement with anyone besides his wife, immediately family members, attorneys and tax-financial advisers.

The agreement stipulates that Sonju, if asked about the litigation, will respond with: "The matter has been resolved."

Copyright (c) 2006 The Columbian Publishing Co., P.O. Box 180, Vancouver, WA 98666.
Record Number: 2006142054


Whistleblower at Georgia Pacific Mills Fired after Reporting Serious Safety Concerns

Engineering Department Manager was retaliated against and wrongfully terminated as a result of reporting serious safety concerns about one of Georgia Pacific’s (GP) mills in Camas, Washington.

Engineering Department Manager L. Dwight Markham Jr., P.E. made several reports to local management at the Camas, Washington facility about serious safety concerns. One of GP’s primary passenger elevators at the mill had trapped several employees, vendors, and contractors between floors on numerous occasions. In some cases, the faulty elevator had suspended its terrified passengers between floors for as long as 20 minutes.

Mr. Markham reported the safety concerns to local management, and received assurances that the necessary repairs had been completed to restore safe operation to the faulty elevator. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Markham was trapped between floors in the problematic elevator for a period of 40 minutes. Following this harrowing experience, an investigation revealed that no professional repairs had been made. In accordance with Georgia Pacific Mills (GP)’s written policy, Mr. Markham lodged an internal complaint with GP’s legal department and notified Camas mill Manager of Engineering and Maintenance, Defendant Kevin Heath of his actions.

Within weeks of reporting the serious safety concerns about the elevator and following GP’s policy of lodging a formal complaint, Mr. Markham began suffering retaliation as a result of his report of the safety violations. He was demoted from his position of Engineering Department Manager and relegated to a clerical position in a makeshift office in the basement storeroom.

After subsequently being terminated on October 15, 2004, Mr. Markham again followed GP’s written safety and ethics policy and requested a formal investigation. Despite GP’s awareness that the elevator currently presented a health and safety threat to employees and the public, GP notified Mr. Markham in writing that it found “no merit” to his safety allegations. After Mr. Markham refused to sign GP’s separation and release agreement, a waiver of all legal rights and claims against GP, GP elected to withhold all vacation pay accrued by Mr. Markham at the time of termination.

After Mr. Markham exhausted all due process within GP’s “Workplace Safety” policy, he reported the safety concerns to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. The Department of Labor and Industries found serious safety violations consistent with Mr. Markham’s reports and flagged the elevator to be taken out of operations until proper repairs could be made. GP failed to make the necessary repairs, and upon re-inspection, the elevator was taken out of service.

Mr. Markham has filed a lawsuit for Wrongful Termination and Unpaid Wages in Clark County Superior Court (Case # 05-2-01724-8) through his attorneys, Gregory D. Ferguson and Scott T. Deutsch, of The Law Offices of Gregory D. Ferguson, PC. For more information, the complaint can be located at www.courts.wa.gov, or contact the Law Offices at (360) 906-1167.