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Jury clears city of Galt in age bias lawsuit

Former parks director sought $1 million in damages after layoff

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Posted: Saturday, January 11, 2014 12:00 am

A Sacramento Superior Court jury found late Friday afternoon that there was no age discrimination when the city of Galt laid off its longtime Parks and Recreation director in mid-2011.

Boyce Jeffries was seeking more than $1.3 million in damages for the emotional turmoil he says he suffered due to the city’s actions. The city has repeatedly said the decision was based solely on a budget shortfall.

In a statement, Galt City Manager Jason Behrmann said the city was pleased with the verdict and happy to put the matter behind it.

“The city has always maintained, and the jury agreed, that the layoff of Jeffries had nothing to do with his age,” according to the statement. “The only evidence of age discrimination ever presented by the plaintiff during the trial was an inaccurate article ... written by a biased reporter who was a personal friend of Mr. Jeffries.” Neither Jeffries nor his attorney Lawrance Bohm could be reached late Friday. The lawsuit was filed in Dec. 2012.

After hearing 24 days of testimony, the jury began deliberating the case Thursday.

Among the contested pieces of evidence was a newspaper article written by former Galt Herald reporter Rachel Ackerman.

She wrote that Behrmann, in a meeting at The Herald, said that he “targeted older, more experienced employees who he felt had a better chance at ... ‘landing on their feet’ in terms of finding subsequent employment.” The story also attributed to Behrmann that the city’s layoff plan would safeguard “younger employees with young families to support.”

Bohm’s brief said the remarks attributed to Behrmamn demonstrate that age was a factor in the city’s decision to lay him off, and that the city manager tacitly endorsed the thrust of the article by not asking for a correction or retraction. Three days after the story ran, Behrmann also called the author of the story, former Herald reporter/editor Rachael Ackerman, and left her a voicemail telling her “she had done a great job on the story,” Bohm’s brief said.

In their brief, the city’s lawyers said that Behrmann denied saying anything during his meeting at The Herald about targeting older workers or safeguarding younger ones. Behrmann did acknowledge saying at the meeting he wanted to help the older employees “land on their feet,” but only “in the context of helping the laid-off employees transition” into retirement, “not as part of his decision-making process,” the city’s brief said.

Jeffries was 54 when the city let him go after 27 years of employment.

In October, he accepted a job offer from the city as a recreational coordinator, a position that pays quite a bit less than the director position, which is still frozen. However, he’s been on paid administrative leave, pending the conclusion of the case.

Behrmann has maintained he chose to eliminate Jeffries’ position, as well as those of the community development director and a full-time police sergeant, as part of the city’s reduction-in-force plan.

The city council decision enabled the city to achieve the highest reduction in costs with the least disruption of services, according to a statement from the city.

At the time, Galt offered Jeffries and Community Development Director Curt Campion two years of retirement credit toward their pensions, plus a lump sum of $15,000 each, if they retired. Campion, who was 55 and is now a Galt City Council member, took the deal. Jeffries did not, and was subsequently laid off.

The sergeant was retained using federal funding.

Sacramento Bee writer Andy Furillo contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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