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Trial looks at Glendale workers' layoffs

Pair contend they lost parks jobs because of whistle-blowing.

April 30, 2013|By Veronica Rocha, veronica.rocha@latimes.com

Taking the stand in federal court on Tuesday, a former Glendale parks manager called one of two ex-city workers who is suing for alleged wrongful termination a "jerk" and "one of the worst employees" he's worked with.

Dave Ahern, former assistant Community Services & Parks Department director, testified in a U.S. District courtroom in downtown Los Angeles that Russell Hauck was "harmful" to other employees and the community.

Hauck and former park naturalist Eric Grossman are suing Ahern, former Parks & Recreation Director George Chapjian and the city of Glendale for allegedly being laid off in 2011 after they raised concerns about Ahern's misuse of city resources.

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"I didn't like [Hauck's] worth ethic," Ahern said during the first day of trial. "I didn't like his bullying behavior with junior employees and female employees."

But despite describing Hauck as being "difficult" and "unproductive," Ahern acknowledged in court that he never disciplined his former employee in writing.

Senior Asst. City Atty. Ann Maurer claimed in her opening statements that Grossman and Hauck, who were initially hired as park rangers, were laid off because of citywide budget cuts. At the time, she said, all city departments were asked to examine ways to cut costs. Maintaining a staff of city park rangers didn't make the cut.

"They were laid off because the program was a luxury item," Maurer said.

Still, Hauck and Grossman's attorney, Solomon Gresen, claimed in court that Hauck came under scrutiny after he spoke out during a City Council meeting about park ranger safety.

Soon after Hauck spoke out, Gresen claims, the park ranger program was eliminated and their job duties were changed to be naturalists, which focused more on teaching and community service.

Once the change occurred, Ahern testified that he noticed Grossman — who he described as a "friend" and "good employee" — lost his enthusiasm.

Grossman reported Ahern to Hauck, his supervisor, after Ahern reportedly asked him and another on-duty city employee in 2011 to use a municipal truck to take rocks from Deukmejian Wilderness Park and drop them off at Ahern's home.

The city contends the rocks were removed from a Los Angeles County sediment placement site, which borders Deukmejian.

The city suspended Ahern for three days after officials investigated an anonymous complaint about the incident. Gresen said Grossman complained about the incident before the anonymous tip and no investigation was conducted at the time.

Ahern admitted in court that he shouldn't have asked Grossman and the employee to move the rocks, adding that he wasn't trying to gain or profit from it.

"I was embarrassed — after all these years, I made such a bonehead decision," he said.

Testimony was scheduled to continue Wednesday in federal court.

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Follow Veronica Rocha on Google+ and on Twitter: @VeronicaRochaLA.

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