City of Oxnard Prevails in Federal Lawsuit Brought by its Former City Manager

Category: Press Release
Date: May 28, 2015 12:00 AM

The following press release was authored by the City of Oxnard and posted on their website:

May 28 - The City of Oxnard and Liebert Cassidy Whitmore announce that after nearly two years of litigation, a jury returned a complete defense verdict in a federal lawsuit brought by the City's former City Manager, Edmund Sotelo.

Sotelo was the City Manager of Oxnard for 15 years. He was an at-will employee who could have been terminated at any time during his contract with or without cause. The City took the position that the City Council placed Sotelo on paid administrative leave for the final 13 months of his employment contract after he refused to participate in the performance evaluation process. Sotelo's contract expired on February 28, 2013 and the Council declined Sotelo's request for a new contract. Sotelo argued that he was retaliated against as a whistleblower because he participated in a Ventura County District Attorney investigation into the City. He also argued that the City's former Mayor, Thomas Holden, orchestrated the performance evaluation as pretext to retaliate against Sotelo for his participation in the DA investigation and personnel decisions Sotelo made. Sotelo sued the City for retaliation and breach of contract.

Sotelo, whose last annual salary at the City was over $292,000, plus a benefits package, and who voluntarily retired from the California Public Employee Retirement System in March 2014 and currently receives roughly $24,000 per month in retirement benefits, sought $2.2 million dollars for the value of another 5 year contract and emotional distress he claimed he suffered as a result of the performance evaluation process.

The City's defense counsel, Melanie Chaney and Hengameh Safaei, from the firm Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, argued that Sotelo was not a whistleblower under the law because he was a subject of the DA investigation and had a duty to cooperate as the City Manager.

Late Tuesday afternoon, a federal district court jury issued a complete defense verdict. The City prevailed on all five claims against it. Sotelo received nothing.

Interim City Attorney Stephen Fischer, who attended the trial as the City's representative, stated that he was very pleased with the jury's verdict for the City. "This is an extremely important victory for the City and the people of Oxnard. The community can be assured that their City Council places a high value on trust and accountability. I am grateful to the jurors for their dedication in hearing the evidence presented over five days in this case and their determination that the City Council had legitimate and non-retaliatory reasons for placing Mr. Sotelo on administrative leave and not renewing his contract." The City did not renew Mr. Sotelo's contract in part because of the findings in the District Attorney report that Sotelo had failed to report gifts from companies doing business with the City and failed to timely repay a loan from the City.

Stephen Fischer, Interim City Attorney

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