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City wins in Glendale ranger lay-off case

Jury finds pair were cut due to budget cuts, not retaliation.

May 07, 2013|By Veronica Rocha, veronica.rocha@latimes.com

Glendale has prevailed in federal court after a jury found the city’s decision to lay off two former parks officials was due to budget pressures, not, as alleged in a lawsuit, because the pair had complained about their boss.

Russell Hauck and Eric Grossman alleged in their lawsuit that their jobs were cut after they complained about Dave Ahern — former assistant director of the Community Services & Parks Department — using a city truck and workers to haul rocks to his home.

Ahern and then parks director George Chapjian were also listed as defendants in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.

The city contended the pair was laid off due to massive budget cuts in 2011 that forced parks administrators to slash $1.3 million in spending.

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“The plaintiffs’ claims were meritless and completely divorced from the budget realities the city has faced,” City Atty. Mike Garcia said in an email. “We’re glad the jury agreed.”

The city, he added, tries to avoid or minimize the need for layoffs, but they can’t always be avoided.

“The economic and budgetary realities of the last couple of years have forced the city to cut or scale back programs it would otherwise not wish to cut,” Garcia said.

Hauck and Grossman’s attorney, Solomon Gresen, said his clients would wait for the court record before deciding whether to appeal the verdict, which was reached Friday.

During the four-day trial, Gresen had argued before jurors that the lay-offs were made out of retaliation, not budget cuts.

The retaliation, he argued, started after Hauck spoke out as a citizen at a City Council meeting to discuss park ranger safety issues.

Soon after, they claim the ranger positions were converted to naturalist positions, thus stripping Hauck and Grossman of their authority to carry guns and issue citations.

Later, they claimed they were retaliated against after reporting the January 2011 rock-moving incident involving Ahern.

The city’s general counsel, Ann Maurer, argued in court that Grossman and Hauck didn’t always see eye-to-eye.

Grossman, by his own admission, gave a scathing review of Hauck’s supervising duties during an internal investigation, Maurer said. He alleged that Hauck was giving himself more overtime hours — misleading management for years — and was poisoning other employees’ opinions of Chapjian.

“There is definitely evidence in this case about bad feelings between people … but bad feelings do not equal retaliation,” Maurer said during her closing argument.

Grossman didn’t immediately report the Ahern incident to Hauck, his supervisor, until a resident came forward saying they had witnessed the rock-moving.

Ahern was ultimately disciplined for the incident and suspended for three days.

Grossman testified that Ahern began to treat him differently after he reported the incident. Ahern testified that he considered Grossman a friend, but he thought Hauck was a “jerk.”

Six months after the incident, Hauck and Grossman were laid off after the naturalist program was listed as a discretionary item to be eliminated during budget cuts.

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

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