City settles in Patton lawsuit for $250,000
The city of Newberg has settled out of court with the man who successfully argued he was the subject of racial discrimination when he applied for a job with the city.
The parties in the case -- CIS Insurance on behalf of the city, and the plaintiff's attorney, Sean Riddell -- signed off on the settlement in late November. The Newberg City Council approved the deal at its meeting Monday evening.
The settlement calls for a total of $250,000 to be paid to Gregg Patton and his attorney. The city is responsible for $10,000 of the total, while CIS will make up the balance.
The other terms of the settlement include no admission of guilt by the city; protection for the city from future fines, penalties, attorney fees and taxes; dismissal of the appeal; protection for the city from future legal actions and "satisfaction" of the judgement and court case against the city.
In September Patton claimed, and the jury concurred, that the city had racially discriminated against him when he applied for a position in 2016 as a human resources assistant. Patton is African-American.
Riddell insists that Patton filed the lawsuit in Yamhill County Circuit Court in 2017 to hold the city accountable for its actions.
"Mr. Patton did not pursue this action for the money," Riddell said. "He pursued the action because it was the right thing to do. He accepted the settlement offer to secure the jury's verdict immediately and not wait for the lengthy appeal process."
On Sept. 25, a Yamhill County Circuit Court jury found in favor of Patton in the case, awarding him $83,500 in economic damages and $200,000 in non-economic damages following the two-day trial.
On Nov. 25, CIS attorneys filed notice of their intent to appeal the jury's verdict, but the two parties came to a settlement the same day. Had the city continued on the path of appeal it could have drug the matter into 2020 or beyond.
"Oftentimes clients do not want to wait that long," Riddell said.
"For my client it was not about the money," he said. "He does not want to risk the jury's decision being overturned and he does not want to give the city the opportunity to say, 'The decision is under appeal.' He wants the city to wear this verdict now."
"Frankly, I am disappointed with the result," said Interim City Manager David Clyne, who has been on the job for about four months after former city manager Joe Hannan retired in July. "While the judge appeared to have agreed with our attorneys that there was no direct evidence of racial discrimination whatsoever in the hire, he allowed the jury verdict to stand. Everyone on the city team was shocked by the outcome because we knew just that -- there was no evidence presented.
"That said, the insurance company that pays the bill felt it was time to cut off further exposure and settle."
Clyne said at Monday's council meeting that now that the Patton case is closed he will undertake a review of what happened, what the city can learn from the episode and how to avoid such actions in the future.
"Unfortunate outcome indeed, but we will reflect carefully on what did go wrong and what steps to make corrective action," he said.
Ultimately, however, it will probably be left to the incoming city manager, expected to take the post in late January, to carry on that analysis.
"I expect to return from the holidays and take whatever meaningful action that I can before the new city manager takes over," Clyne said. "I feel that it would be better for me to handle this rather than leave it incomplete."
Ultimately, the hope is city government can learn from this episode in its history.
"I agree the city has taken a hit from this verdict, but will continue to grow, prosper and be the amazing community that it is for decades to come," he said. "Like most setbacks in life, they typically are opportunities in disguise – as this one will be as well."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.