Judge rejects former manager's wrongful firing claim

Judge rejects former manager's wrongful firing claim

Michele Ellson
Ann Marie Gallant

Ann Marie Gallant, the city's former interim manager, at a City Council meeting.

A local judge has dismissed a wrongful termination suit lodged by the city’s former top administrator, closing the book on a tumultuous period at City Hall that saw an exodus of top staff and a flurry of claims and lawsuits.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge John M. True III ruled that the City Council’s 2010 decision not to renew Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant’s contract and to put her on paid administrative leave for its final three months did not constitute a wrongful termination.

“Plaintiff received from the City exactly what she bargained for: a two-year contract to be the City’s Interim City Manager. Nowhere in the record is there any indication that either party had an expectation that the relationship would necessarily become permanent,” True wrote in a decision issued Friday.

City officials cheered the ruling – and used it as an opportunity to warn potential litigants that the city will seek to recover attorney’s fees against anyone else who sues. Judge True ruled that Gallant owes the city legal fees and costs, though the total amount wasn’t announced.

“The City is completely vindicated in the actions we took,” Mayor Marie Gilmore was quoted as saying in a press release issued Tuesday. She said the ruling ends “a difficult chapter” in the city’s history.

Gallant’s attorney, William Marder, could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

On December 28, 2010 – a week after Rob Bonta was sworn in as Alameda’s vice mayor – the council voted 3-2 not to renew Gallant’s contract and to put her on paid leave until it expired. Gallant sued, claiming she was fired for reporting her suspicions that City Councilwoman Lena Tam was illegally leaking confidential information to representatives from the local firefighters’ union and SunCal Companies, the Southern California developer that was seeking a deal to redevelop Alameda Point. Tam was later cleared of wrongdoing.

Judge True ruled that Gallant failed to show a connection between her reporting of the alleged wrongdoing to then-City Attorney Teresa Highsmith and the council’s decision not to hire Gallant as Alameda’s permanent city manager. He said the council had the “obvious legal right” to decline to renew her contract.

“Gallant’s attack on my character cost me and the City money that could have been put to better use during tight budget times,” Tam was quoted as saying in the city’s news release. Tam’s legal fees were reimbursed by the city after she was cleared.

The decision ended a tumultuous period at City Hall that saw an exodus of staff who resigned or were placed on leave and a slew of claims and lawsuits from former staffers and the city’s onetime master developer for the Point. SunCal sued the city for $117 million after the council voted the developer off the Island, accusing officials of violating the developer’s exclusive negotiating agreement by pursuing efforts to develop the Point themselves when they were supposed to be negotiating a development deal. The company settled with the city in December 2012 for $4.2 million.

Former Fire Chief David Kapler filed a $2 million suit against the city after resigning in November 2010, claiming Tam and the firefighters union conspired to get him fired and ruin his reputation after photos showing him gassing up a BMW coupe at the city’s pumps set off a media firestorm. A judge tossed most of his case and Kapler relinquished the rest; he’ll have to pay more than a quarter million dollars for the city’s legal fees.

Former City Attorney Teresa Highsmith filed a claim against the city after she was put on leave, when council members learned she had taken a contract job as interim city attorney for Barstow. She retired from Alameda a few months later.

Gallant was hired by the city in 2008 to serve as interim finance director, and she replaced former City Manager Debra Kurita less than a year later after Kurita resigned, with Gilmore and Tam voting against the hire.