City of Anaheim lawyers fighting a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by a former city attorney have lost a tense battle to end the dispute with a $650,000 payment.
U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter ruled late this month that the city lawyers' actions didn't warrant sanctions but their wrangling to force Cristina Talley into the settlement was legally erroneous.
Talley, who is represented by attorney Edward J. Morales, claims city council members discriminated against her based on age, national origin and gender as well as created a hostile work environment before abruptly forcing her to resign in January 2013.
During so-called "last, best and final" settlement negotiations in April and early May, Talley proposed a $750,000 payment to end the case before it reached a jury.
City lawyers--Brian P. Walter and Leighton D. Henderson at the Los Angeles law firm of Liebert, Cassidy and Whitmore--countered with the $650,000 figure, which she accepted.
That proposal also contained a statement from Talley: "I continue to believe that the city treated me unfairly. However, following recent discussion with city representatives, I have reconsidered some of my claims and decided I should dismiss my claims for age, gender and national origin discrimination and for retaliation."
For tax purposes, the proposal divided the $650,000 into two categories: 25 percent in wages and 75 percent for emotional distress.
The parties, however, bickered over the meaning of some of the settlement terms and Talley withdrew her acceptance of the deal causing Walter and Henderson to express their "surprise and dismay" of the move. They strenuously argued that she was legally banned from backing out.
Talley countered that only a tentative settlement had been reached.
Judge Carter considered the arguments and, without hearing oral arguments, agreed the May 8 deal acceptance was not binding because that proposal indicated future steps were necessary to finalize any pact and that certain conditions had remained unsettled.
"Because such significant terms were left open to future negotiation, and the operation of the agreement was explicitly conditioned to a formal writing, the court simply cannot find that it was the parties' intent to bind themselves to the May agreement," ruled Carter, who ordered both sides to resume discovery and depositions.
The decision was the second major loss for the city lawyers after Carter rejected their attempt to have the case dismissed as "frivolous" in January.
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This latest drama will likely stall the scheduled April 2016 trial by at least four months.