OAKDALE -- The city has agreed to pay $220,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a public works supervisor who claimed he was ostracized and humiliated for defending the city's only black worker from racial slurs, threats and a hostile workplace.
The black employee also sued Oakdale and settled his lawsuit in 2011. The two lawsuits cost the city nearly $800,000 in legal and settlement costs.
Streets and Utilities Supervisor Mark Ozbirn filed a lawsuit against Oakdale in Stanislaus County Superior Court in July 2011. Ozbirn, who has worked for the city since 1988, alleged that he was the victim of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
Ozbirn filed his lawsuit several months after the city settled the lawsuit brought against it by William Moffitt, whom Ozbirn hired in October 2005 and was the city's only black employee among its roughly 120 workers.
Moffitt quit in November 2006 and sued the city in 2008, claiming co-workers repeatedly used the "n-word" in his presence, brought loaded weapons to work to intimidate him and placed bets on how long it would take to force him out.
Moffitt and Ozbirn were represented by attorney Steven Robinson from the Law Offices of Joseph L. Alioto and Angela Alioto in San Francisco. Attorney Lisa Aguiar with the Bay Area law firm of Ropers Majeski Kohn Bentley represented Oakdale in both lawsuits.
As part of the settlement, the parties agreed not to comment other than to say that the litigation had been resolved to everyone's satisfaction.
There is no admission of wrongdoing by Oakdale, and the city says it entered into the agreement "to avoid the expense, delay, uncertainty, and burden of continued litigation."
In court papers, Aguiar has portrayed Ozbirn as a longtime employee who stopped performing and tried to deflect attention from his performance by claiming that he was the victim of retaliation.
In contrast, Robinson has written that Ozbirn "presents a compelling narrative of a loyal employee whose career was derailed solely because he did the right thing in breaking the color line in the City of Oakdale."
"His case will only be helped by evidence showing an out-of-control workplace where he was punished while racism, gun toting and insubordination were tolerated."
The two lawsuits have been costly for Oakdale, which has struggled in recent years with its finances.
It cost Oakdale nearly $440,000 to settle the Moffitt lawsuit: almost $254,000 in legal and other costs, and a $185,000 settlement to Moffitt and his attorney.
It cost Oakdale more than $360,000 to settle the Ozbirn lawsuit: $143,558 in legal and other costs, as well as the $220,000 settlement to Ozbirn and his attorney.
The lawsuits were part of a series of management, performance and morale problems for public works. Last year, the city laid off its city engineer-public works deputy director and fired its public works director.
City officials also discovered last year that Oakdale's sewer fund has an annual revenue shortfall of at least several hundred thousand dollars, making it difficult for the city to pay off the roughly $13 million it borrowed from the state to upgrade the waste-water plant. City officials are working on solving that problem.
City Manager Bryan Whitemyer said he believes Oakdale is moving forward since the two lawsuits.
"I believe so," said Whitemyer, who became city manager this month. "My goal moving forward is that we maintain a work environment of mutual respect. We will not tolerate an environment where people feel uncomfortable."
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.