Kingman attorney: 'Outlaw' status enough to support firing
Once branded by law enforcement, constitutional protections don't apply?
2/7/2014 6:00:00 AM
By Doug McMurdo
KINGMAN - A fired Kingman city employee gave up her constitutional right to free association because her husband belonged to an alleged "outlaw" motorcycle club, City Attorney Carl Cooper said this week.
That ex-employee, Melissa Summerson, sued the city over her dismissal and recently agreed to a $50,000 offer of judgment. Cooper said that was a "tactical maneuver" on the city's part made only to contain costs.
"If her husband belonged to a political group or some other organization, then the city would have been wrong, no doubt about it," he told the Miner following Tuesday's City Council meeting.
"But we're talking about an outlaw motorcycle gang. We felt case law supported our decision."
The council voted 6-0 Tuesday to cut a $10,000 check to Summerson. The city's insurance will pay the remaining $40,000.
The city terminated her employment in December 2012 after the city's employees in the legal field - police, attorneys and others - expressed anxiety over Summerson's access to their personal information, which they feared might be shared with the Desert Road Riders, a group given an outlaw label by law enforcement.
Cooper said Human Resource employees have access not only to home addresses, but also to Social Security cards, the names of their children, the schools they attend and other private, sensitive information.
Summerson, who still resides in Mohave County and has found new employment in her field, had an exemplary employment record with the city prior to her dismissal. The city's contract attorneys who settled the case rather than go to trial never provided any evidence Summerson did, or planned to do, anything improper.
Cooper said the city's attorneys made the offer of judgment for a number of reasons, none of them having to do with the city's liability in Summerson's firing.
He said the offer of judgment was made as litigation approached an expensive phase. He said attorneys' fees for both parties probably would have exceeded $100,000 had the case gone all the way to trial.
Cooper also said making the offer of judgment protected the city if Summerson prevailed at trial and the judge awarded her no more than $50,000. The city wouldn't have been protected if she were awarded more than $50,000.
"The idea is to cap losses in case you lose," he said.
A law enforcement report published in 2009 indicated the Desert Road Riders met the criteria to be labeled a criminal street gang.
In 2002, the club voted to support the Hell's Angels, according to the report. The report also stated the Desert Road Riders "pulled away from the original friendly relationship that was once established with law enforcement and have taken on a 'One Percent Club' mentality."
The report also referenced a brawl that same year between members of the Hell's Angels and the Desert Road Riders against the Vagos Motorcycle Club. Two Desert Road Riders members were arrested, but the charges were later dropped. A jury acquitted those who went to trial.
The lone conviction was handed down when one member of the Hell's Angels entered into a plea agreement.
"Doing this was unpleasant for everyone involved," said Cooper, "but when one-third of your workforce has expressed anxiety and concern about the issue, what do you do?"