Wednesday Jul 20 2011
Eaton case set for trial
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
City loses en banc appeal in wrongful termination complaint
After more than half a decade, the Rick Eaton lawsuit against the city of Rocklin and the Rocklin Police department maybe heading into a courtroom later this year. On July 12, a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court three judge panel turned down an en banc review of its decision to bar former Rocklin City Manager Carlos Urrutia and former Police Chief Mark Siemens from immunity in the wrongful termination case of then police Sgt. Rick Eaton in 2004. Attorney Bruce Scheidt, who is representing Urrutia and Siemens, said the ruling focused on a very narrow part of the case and did not address the lack of merits to the lawsuit. “Mr. Eaton filed a lawsuit challenging the police department’s 40-hour unpaid suspension when he was accused of asking to see a female subordinate officer’s breasts while he was supervising her alone in a city-owned police vehicle,” Scheidt said. Eaton then filed a grievance on the grounds the suspension for verbal harassment of the female officer lacked good cause and after a series of questionable behavior was terminated. Following his 2006 termination, Eaton filed a grievance challenging his dismissal. Scheidt said an arbitrator held a week-long hearing with 18 witnesses and 100 exhibits. He considers that hearing the bulk of what any jury trial would look like. “Arbitrator William Riker issued a 49-page advisory decision denying Mr. Eaton’s grievance,” Scheidt said. “He did negatively impact the good order and efficiency of the organization. If he were allowed to remain as a police officer with the city of Rocklin, then his behavior would serve as a benchmark against future violations of such insubordinate and disruptive nature.” Eaton considers himself a whistleblower who helped end an alleged illegal pizza-for-ticket quota program conducted by the police department in 2003. He said he’s hopeful a jury will see the truth once and for all. “We are pleased with the Ninth Circuit’s decision and look forward to finally receiving our day in court,” Eaton said. “Only then will the facts be seen in their entirety and an impartial jury will provide justice for all parties concerned.” As for the potential for settlement, Eaton is determined, but Scheidt is not ruling it out completely. “We are looking at a trial. Of course, the parties always have an opportunity to avoid trial through a settlement,” Scheidt said. “I do not know if there is a realistic likelihood of settlement.” Currently, Eaton is employed with his brother’s trucking company. Siemens and Urrutia retired from the city of Rocklin earlier this year.