CA Court of Appeal issues decision in favor of City of LB in alleged retaliation case

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On March 1, the California Court of Appeal reversed a jury’s verdict that would have awarded former Long Beach Police Department Sgt. Timothy O’Hara over $1.6 million, based on O’Hara’s claim that former LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell disciplined him because he was a whistle blower. With the Court of Appeal decision, the court agreed that O’Hara was not disciplined for whistle blowing. O’Hara will not be awarded anything from the City of Long Beach and will have to pay the City’s costs of suit, according to officials.

“The police chief’s motives in disciplining O’Hara were as a direct result of O’Hara’s inappropriate behavior, not from O’Hara’s participation in the audit,” stated City Attorney Charles Parkin.

O’Hara was a former member of the City’s Port Police Unit and a member of the City’s underwater dive team. In early 2011, the City’s auditor interviewed O’Hara as part of an investigation concerning alleged overtime abuses by some employees in the Harbor Department’s Security Unit.

In September 2011, the LBPD opened an internal-affairs investigation into a human-resources complaint that O’Hara wore an inappropriate T-shirt to the City’s mandatory sexual-harassment prevention training. The investigation resulted in Chief McDonnell taking disciplinary action by removing O’Hara from the Port Police Unit. O’Hara sued the City, claiming that McDonnell’s actions were in part motivated by O’Hara’s participation in the City’s audit.

At trial, the City argued that no evidence supported O’Hara’s claims and presented evidence that Chief McDonnell did not know that O’Hara had participated in the audit concerning harbor employees. According to McDonnell, such participation would have shown leadership– and had he been aware, he would have been supportive of O’Hara’s participation.

The Court of Appeal agreed. The three-judge panel stated in its written opinion: “We agree with the City that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s special verdict that the City retaliated against O’Hara for disclosing alleged violations of law by employees of another City department. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment.”