Jury Gives $613K to Fired Oakland City Employee

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal jury awarded a former Oakland city employee $613,302 after finding she was fired for speaking up about corruption in city government.
     After she was fired in 2013 from her post as the city’s employee relations manager, Daryelle Lawanna Preston claimed in a 2014 lawsuit that city administrator Deanna Santana retaliated against her after she spoke up about what she believed to be systemic corruption in Oakland government.
     Preston sued Oakland and Santana for whistleblower retaliation and First Amendment violations.
     Allegations at issue in the trial included Preston’s claim that Santana asked her to help her “get rid of” city councilwoman Desley Brooks – Preston had suggested Santana didn’t like Brooks because Brooks is black – and her claim that city officials made an under-the-table bargain with a local chapter of the International Association of Firefighters Union.
     The damages awarded by the jury break down into $92,000 for past lost earnings, $82,000 for future lost earnings, $409,000 for future pension plan benefits and $29,000 for emotional distress damages.
     Dan Siegel, Preston’s attorney, said in a phone interview that Preston is now employed by the city and county of San Francisco, where she began in a lesser position than her post in Oakland but has since been promoted to work “essentially the same job,” although “now she deals with eight times more employees and that many more unions.”
     Preston won the case, Siegel said, because “the jury saw that my client was a hard-working, competent and intelligent labor relations professional who was fired because she tried to do the job that she was hired for.”
     “The jurors we spoke with after the trial saw that the case illustrated complete dysfunction within the Oakland city government,” Siegel said, adding that the case arose purely out of “personal animus” on the part of some of the city’s “decision-makers.”
     Siegel – who ran for mayor of Oakland last year – said he was also personally interested in the case because he is an Oakland citizen and taxpayer.
     He said that the handling of the case also reflected “complete dysfunction,” since the it could have been settled two years ago for between $100,000 and $150,000.
     “I would imagine by the time this is done, Oakland will have spent a million and a half dollars on a wrongheaded decision to fire,” Siegel said.
     The defendants could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
     Siegel practices with Siegel and Yee in Oakland.

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