On Friday, May 3, a federal court jury returned a verdict in favor of the City of Glendale, David Ahern and George Chapjian against plaintiffs Eric Grossman and Russell Hauck who claimed they were laid off in July of 2011 as a result of First Amendment retaliation and whistleblowing. The trial, which commenced on April 30, 2013, involved allegations that former Parks Director George Chapjian and Interim Assistant Parks Director David Ahern slated the city’s Park Naturalist Program for elimination because Hauck had appeared at a 2008 City Council meeting and Hauck and Grossman had made a complaint about Ahern in January of 2011.
The defendants asserted that the layoffs were made entirely due to an $18 million dollar shortfall in the City’s budget that resulted in $1.3 million in program cuts to the Parks Department. The city submitted evidence that 14 people were laid off from the city in July of 2011 and many other programs were cut. Moreover, the evidence established that Chapjian had absolutely no involvement in the layoffs as he left the city in December 2010 to take the head job in the City of Long Beach Parks Department. The jury deliberated for a little over two hours before reaching its unanimous decision.
“The result is extremely gratifying,” said City Attorney Michael Garcia. Garcia noted that “the economic and budgetary realities of the last couple of years have forced the city to cut or scale back programs it would otherwise not wish to cut. The city looked at its programs seriously and weighed each program in terms of what was in the best interests of the city and its residents. In addition, the city makes every attempt to avoid or minimize layoffs but in some cases they could not be avoided.”
Garcia said that “the plaintiffs’ claims were meritless and completely divorced from the budget realities the city has faced. We’re glad the jury agreed.”
The city intends to seek the costs it incurred in defending this action.
General Counsel of Litigation Ann Maurer and Deputy City Attorney Andrew Rawcliffe from the City Attorney’s Office tried the case for the city.