OAKDALE — The city is close to settling a lawsuit filed by a public works supervisor who claims he was ostracized and humiliated by city workers after he defended the city's only black worker from racial slurs, threats and a hostile workplace.
No one would provide the settlement amount. But the public works supervisor, Mark Ozbirn, had offered to settle for $250,000 and the city countered with $150,000, according to court records.
San Jose attorney Lisa Aguiar, who represents Oakdale, said city officials have approved the settlement, which is now with Ozbirn for his signature. He said he is reviewing the agreement.
"It's essentially a done deal," Aguiar said.
The settlement becomes public after it has been approved by all of the parties.
The lawsuit is scheduled back in Stanislaus County Superior Court on Jan. 16, though Ozbirn's attorney, Steve Robinson, said that date may be rescheduled. The lawsuit was filed in July 2011.
The lawsuit is part of a series of problems for public works, which has been beset by management, performance and morale problems. In March 2011, Oakdale paid $185,000 to settle the lawsuit brought against it by the black worker Ozbirn had hired.
William Moffitt who worked for Oakdale from October 2005 to November 2006 alleged in his lawsuit that co-workers used the "n" word in his presence, brought a loaded weapon to work to intimidate him and placed bets on how long it would take to force him out.
City remains mum
Oakdale did not admit any of Moffitt's allegations in settling the case. Moffitt was represented by Robinson, who is with the San Francisco law firm of Joseph L. Alioto and Angela Alioto.
City officials have said Moffitt's 3-year-old lawsuit cost Oakdale nearly $254,000 in legal and other costs in addition to the $185,000. Oakdale officials could not say Thursday how much they have spent defending the city in Ozbirn's 1½-year-old lawsuit.
Ozbirn, 52, has worked for Oakdale since December 1988 and became supervisor for streets and utilities in 2003. Robinson said his client's tenure with the city had been marked by "solid performance and advancement," according to court records.
That is, until Ozbirn hired Moffitt and later promoted him. Then, Robinson claims, several public works employees strongly objected, and management made Ozbirn's work life miserable.
Record to be revealed?
Robinson writes that if the case goes to trial, the "reality is that the City of Oakdale will be portrayed as a wide-open workplace where racism, gun-toting and insubordination flourished for years."
Aguiar, the city's attorney, denies Ozbirn's claims that he is the victim of harassment, discrimination and retaliation, according to court records.
"In reality," Aguiar writes, "Ozbirn has suffered significant performance problems, which he is covering up and deflecting by claiming retaliation. In short, Ozbirn is a long-term employee who has simply stopped performing."
Robinson writes that one of the sticking points in resolving the case has been the city's position that it would not settle unless Ozbirn resigned. Ozbirn must work for five more years to qualify for his full pension.
On Oct. 23, Robinson wrote, Ozbirn offered to settle for $250,000, and he would keep his job. Two days later, the city countered with an offer of $150,000 and Ozbirn would stay with the city for two more years, when he reaches retirement age.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.