Despite repeated efforts to derail an anti-Latina discrimination lawsuit filed by fired City Attorney Cristina Talley, lawyers for the Anaheim City Council must continue to prepare for an April 12, 2016, jury trial inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse.
This week, U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter did agree with city lawyers' contentions that several prongs of Talley's lawsuit should be dismissed without prejudice for being vague, but he refused to dismiss the entire action, firmly rejecting Anaheim's assertion that the case is "frivolous."
Pending a late January debate over whether the dispute should be sent back to state court, Carter is letting the heart of the case proceed: Certain elected officials discriminated against Talley, created a hostile work environment before firing her and then hired a much younger, less experienced white male lawyer with a starting salary higher than the one she earned after a 16-year career in Anaheim.
Government officials in Anaheim have earned a notorious reputation for routinely blocking public access to records of their conduct (a stance, ironically, backed by Talley during her tenure), and so it wasn't surprising that they also demanded that Carter seal a portion of the complaint that has been available to read for months.
Specifically, the city sought to seal paragraphs 26 to 31 by claiming those sections of the lawsuit contained "confidential information" about closed, council sessions and that public consumption of such material would harm the willingness of council members and staff to speak honestly at future private meetings.
After noting that a city's demand for secrecy is easily overcome by his federal judicial authority, the judge called the city's Brown Act position "unpersuasive" in this litigation.
"There is no indication that revealing the information would hinder frank and independent discussion regarding policy decisions," Carter declared in his written ruling. "There is a strong public interest in this information, such that concealing such proceedings would be inappropriate. Additionally, the information is not readily available from other sources--the gravamen of the employment claims necessarily involve inquiry into the city council's treatment of Ms. Talley and the reasons presented for her discharge."
To drive the point home, the judge added, "The city's interest is ensuring local government bodies are to engage in free and candid discussions does not override Ms. Talley's right to use in her complaint relevant evidence concerning the reasons for her dismissal."
Talley's lawsuit alleges age, race and gender discrimination, and identifies Anaheim politicians Kris Murray, Harry Sidhu, Gail Eastman and Jordan Brandman for orchestrating her Jan. 2013, dismissal.
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City lawyers contend that Talley was fired for "legitimate, good faith reasons" and that it was impossible for the city to investigate her claims of a hostile work environment because she first made the assertions 14 months after her termination.