Attorney Bob Dunn is making good on his promise: He's filing a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the City of Spokane after a settlement deal for ex-Spokane police officer Brad Thoma was rejected by the city council.
The lawsuit claims Thoma, who was a sergeant in the police department, was wrongfully terminated for a DUI hit-and-run conviction.
The whole situation swirls around the state's definition that alcoholism is a disability. Thoma claims he was suffering from the disease when he was charged with DUI and hit-and-run and that it is the city's responsibility to help him overcome that disability.
Dunn's price tag for the city failing to reinstate Thoma and paying him more than $250,000 in back pay is $4 Million. Dunn said that this figure "amounts to the front pay that Sergeant Thoma was entitled to had he not been fired illegally."
While off-duty in late 2009, Thoma rear-ended someone at a red light and drove off. He was later charged for DUI and hit and run and was later fired by Anne Kirkpatrick, who was Spokane's police chief at the time.
However Thoma argued that alcoholism was the cause of the crash and asked the city for a settlement that would give him lost wages and his job back.
"Alcoholism might explain the drinking, driving and crashing but it still leaves the running unexplained," Spokane city councilman Steve Salvatori said.
Initially Mayor David Condon admitted certain actions by Kirkpatrick could make fighting a lawsuit tough for the city.
"You do need to do things by the book and we are learning our lessons; when we don't do things by the book it's very hard to defend it," he said.
However a flip-flop by the state human rights commission had council members betting otherwise and rejecting the settlement at their Monday night meeting.
"I'll not only say no. I'll say, hell no," Spokane city councilman Mike Fagan said Monday night.
The linchpin of Dunn's lawsuit will focus on the states definition of alcoholism as a disability and the city's need to accommodate employees for that disability.
"Instead of being angry at lawyers who are enforcing the law, these folks need to be angry at the medical community that said it was a disability," Dunn said.
The city will now look to see what ultimately will cost more: The settlement, the lawsuit or public trust.
"We need to re-evaluate that case based on, basically the things that have changed over the last week, with the human rights commission, with the pulling of the human rights complaint," City of Spokane spokesperson Marlene Feist said.
The city now has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit. If the case goes before a judge it could be more than a year before a decision is handed down.
Related Document: Thoma v. City of Spokane Complaint For Damages