Former employee sues police chief in wrongful termination claim

An increasingly powerful tool in the fight against wrongful terminations is the claim of retaliatory discharge. This claim is used in California in a wrongful termination claim to generally assert that the employer fired the employee in retaliation against proper activity being performed by the employee. In this case, a former San Rafael police officer and Marin County deputy district attorney has brought a lawsuit for wrongful termination against San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr.

The woman had been hired by the City of San Francisco in 2006 and fired in 2011 for what were called 'budgetary' reasons. During her employment, the woman had been part of an internal investigation against Suhr that sought his dismissal. The matter related to procedural mistakes by him in a domestic violence case.

Suhr was not dismissed but was demoted to Captain for not properly reporting the matter. He also received a suspension. At some point, the woman claims that Suhr's attorney told her that she would be sorry for her role in the case and that the threat was followed by her wrongful termination. She was fired in April 2011 within a month of Suhr's elevation to the police chief job.

The woman's counsel told the press that it's irrelevant whether Suhr was acting wrongfully in the 2009 domestic case. All that the claimant has to prove is that the Chief had her fired in response to her prior efforts against him. That could be a critical distinction in this case where the infractions by the Chief in 2009 appear at least on the surface to be borderline procedural defaults.

California law places the emphasis on the acts of retaliation against the employee, which constitute a wrongful termination. As long as the employee was performing valid job functions, the employer's actions to terminate the employee for revenge or retaliation are illegal. The case will continue through the procedural steps, and if it survives those phases of the litigation process without being dismissed, it will be set for trial. However, most cases that do survive the preliminary and pre-trial phases are settled prior to trial.

Source: Novato, CA Patch, "Novato Woman's Lawsuit Targets SF's Top Cop," Gideon Rubin, May 16, 2013

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