Judge Won’t Dismiss Case With Corruption Claims

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – An Oakland city official who denounced what she believed to be systemic corruption may have been unlawfully fired, a federal judge ruled.
     After working for nearly five years as a human resources manager for Oakland, Daryelle Lawanna Preston worked for about a year and a half as the city’s director of employee relations before she was fired by Deanna Santana, her supervisor and Oakland’s city administrator.
     Preston was fired in October 2013. In March 2014 she sued Santana and Oakland for whistleblower retaliation and First Amendment violations.
     U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins’s July 23 ruling addresses four incidents.
     The first concerns a report Preston was assigned to write on the Rainbow Teen Center, in East Oakland. Preston claimed that Santana pressured her to include a section stating that City Councilwoman Desley Brooks had violated the City Charter.
     Preston alleged that Santana pressed for the statement to “get rid of” Brooks, whom she suggested Santana disliked because Brooks is black.
     After this conflict, Preston said, Santana asked her in a March 2012 City Council meeting to publicly “confirm” that Brooks had been provided certain information about staffing choices at the youth center, which Preston says was not the truth.
     Preston also claimed that certain city representatives made an under-the-table bargain with a local chapter of the International Association of Firefighters Union, and that certain members of her own staff had failed to collect union dues for years.
     Santana fired her for speaking up about all this, Preston claimed.
     Cousins dismissed only one of Preston’s claims: the First Amendment claim regarding the City Council meeting, because she was speaking as a public official and in a professional capacity, so her speech was not protected.
     But all of her other claims for First Amendment violations and whistleblower retaliation must be examined, Cousins ruled.
     Cousins found that Preston sufficiently demonstrated that her firing may have been caused by her disclosures, since she was fired less than 40 hours after she revealed the Service Employees International Union’s grievance on the uncollected dues to the City Council, and because her colleagues testify to her good work performance before she was fired.
     Neither side responded to requests for comment Monday.
     Preston is represented by Dan Siegel, with Siegel & Yee in Oakland.
     The city is represented by Gary Lafayette, with Lafayette & Kumagai in San Francisco.

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