A former San Francisco Police Department attorney won the right today to a trial on her claim that she was wrongfully fired in 2011 in retaliation for working on a disciplinary case against Chief Greg Suhr.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith denied a request by city attorneys for a summary judgment dismissing the lawsuit filed in 2013 by Kelly O’Haire. He said a jury should decide the case.
“There are triable issues of material fact regarding whether there is a causal link between the protected conduct and the adverse employment action and whether the reasons for the termination were pretextual,” Goldsmith wrote.
The judge, referring to the future jury, also said, “The trier of fact could find that the timing of the termination decision was suspicious.”
O’Haire claims in her lawsuit against the city and Suhr that she was fired on May 16, 2011, two and one-half weeks after Suhr became chief, because she filed a disciplinary action against Suhr with the Police Commission in 2009.
The disciplinary motion alleged that Suhr, then a deputy chief, had responded to a domestic violence call from a female friend and initially failed to report the incident or arrest the perpetrator, in violation of Police Department regulations mandated by state law.
The perpetrator was later charged with attempted murder, according to the lawsuit.
Suhr was eventually suspended for five days in 2010 by then-chief George Gascon, according to a brief filed by city lawyers.
The Police Department and city attorneys have contended that O’Haire and her boss in a division that investigated police misconduct were terminated as part of a series of cost-cutting moves by Suhr to address a serious budget shortfall that he inherited.
Goldsmith today placed O’Haire’s lawsuit on the Superior Court’s master calendar for assignment to a trial judge on April 20. His ruling does not decide whether she was in fact retaliated against, but merely allows the case to move forward to a trial.
Jayme Walker, a lawyer for O’Haire, said her client “feels vindicated to finally have her day in court.”
“It means a lot to my client. She has been through hell. To get fired for doing her job was devastating,” Walker said.
Walker said she expects the trial to begin either on April 20 or shortly thereafter and estimated it will take three or four weeks.
Some claims in the lawsuit were dismissed in earlier proceedings and the case now includes a claim against the city for retaliatory termination and a claim against Suhr for intentional infliction of emotional distress, Walker said.
O’Haire worked as a San Rafael police officer for nine years before graduating from law school and becoming a prosecutor in the Marin County District Attorney’s Office in 1995. She joined the Internal Affairs Division of the San Francisco Police Department as a civilian attorney to work on misconduct cases in 2006.
Walker said O’Haire hasn’t been able to get a job as a lawyer or in city government since she was fired, and now works in human resources at a university.
The lawsuit asks for financial compensation for lost wages, future wages and emotional distress, as well as an additional punitive financial award.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News