A federal judge has dismissed several aspects of a fired Santa Rosa police captain's wrongful termination lawsuit but ruled that other parts seeking to get his job back may proceed in court.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston's 16-page ruling, issued Feb. 17, also denied the city of Santa Rosa's request for sanctions against Jamie Mitchel and his attorney, Scott Lewis, but said the two ultimately may be on the hook for fees if their legal claims don't hold up.
"Although the court finds that sanctions are not warranted at this time, the court agrees with defendant (Santa Rosa) that plaintiff's and counsel's conduct may ultimately prove to be sanctionable," she wrote.
Illston also wrote that Mitchel's gender discrimination claim is "pled in such a conclusory and implausible manner as to render the claim frivolous."
The city sought a complete dismissal of Mitchel's 13 charges. The ruling dismissed six. Three others were dismissed but can be refiled. Two others were partially dismissed with parts that can be refiled.
Two other issues the city sought to have dismissed were allowed to proceed: Mitchel's effort to be reinstated and to have a new arbitration hearing.
Each sides characterized the ruling as a victory.
"It's a big win for the city at this point," City Attorney Caroline Fowler said.
"In 18 months, this I my first victory, and I feel good about it," Mitchel said. "Now I can move forward and vindicate myself."
Mitchel, 55, was fired in May 2008 in the wake of employee gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation complaints filed against him and then-Police Chief Ed Flint. All four complaints named Flint and two named Mitchel.
Flint was forced out and Mitchel was fired. The city paid the complainants more than a total of $120,000 to resolve their grievances.
Mitchel then sued the city, saying he was improperly dismissed and was discriminated because he is a white man.
The judge dismissed five of Mitchel's claims that he was denied his federal constitutional rights by violations of California law.
Mitchel can proceed with efforts to seek a reinstatement to his job and a new arbitration hearing. An earlier one upheld his firing by then-City Manager Jeff Kolin.
The ruling dismissed Mitchel's contention that a neutral arbitrator, of three on the panel, acted improperly, saying it wasn't supported by evidence. Mitchel was allowed to refile the charge with factual allegations.
Mitchel's attorney has until Friday to file additional arguments. Fowler said the city will then respond. A case management hearing is set for May 14.
As of last summer, the most recent accounting available, the case, including Mitchel's firing, Flint's forced exit and damage repair within the fractured Police Department, has cost the city more than $840,000.
You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or at email@example.com.
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