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Woodlake and former officer near settlement over 2015 wrongful termination civil suit

Woodlake and former officer near settlement over 2015 wrongful termination civil suit

Daniel Garibay claims he was fired in 2015 for having an affair with wife of man who was friends with police chief, city administrator

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

WOODLAKE – A former Woodlake Police officer’s civil suit against the City of Woodlake is nearing a settlement. Court filings show there are no future dates for trial or other court actions and the plaintiffs attorneys confirmed that they are in the midst of the settlement process.

Daniel Garibay, a three-year veteran of the Woodlake Police Department, filed a lawsuit against the City on Oct. 29, 2015 for alleged violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) claiming the police chief, lieutenant, city manager and a fellow officer acted together “in an effort to wrongfully and illegally drive Garibay from his employment in the City of Woodlake.” Garibay claims he was fired on Feb. 13, 2015 for having an affair with the wife of a Woodlake man, only identified as John Doe #1, who is a close friend of City Administrator Ramon Lara and Police Chief Mike Marquez.

The lawsuit claimed Woodlake Police Chief Mike Marquez “pressured” Garibay to end his relationship with the unnamed woman, referred to as Jane Doe #1 in court documents, stating “you better fix this,” or something to that effect. “Chief Marquez, on information and belief, acting on the orders of City Manager Lara and John Doe #1, attempted to dissuade and discourage Garibay’s relationship with Jane Doe #1,” the lawsuit stated.

When Garibay refused to cease contact with the woman, he claims Marquez initiated an internal affairs investigation for allegations of insubordination. Furthermore, Marquez assigned Lt. Jose Aguayo to conduct an internal affairs investigation which invaded Garibay’s privacy and infringed on his freedom. “As a result of the pre-allegations of misconduct, Garibay was wrongfully fired from his employment on or about Feb. 13, 2015 at the orders and direction of Marquez,” stated the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also names Officer Jesus Mendez, who allegedly made false statements that Garibay had confided in him about lying about his relationship with the woman. Mendez also allegedly failed to disclose that he himself had tried to have a social/sexual relationship with the same woman.

“[Mendez] had gone so far as to kiss or attempt to kiss her while she was participating on a ‘ride-a-long’ with the Woodlake Police Department,” according to the lawsuit.

Judge Bret Hillman had tentatively scheduled a trial date for Dec. 11 but the case never made it that far as both parties agreed to enter into settlement following several conferences in the fall. Garibay’s attorney, Maggie Melo of the Law Officers of Melo and Sarsfield in Visalia, said terms of the settlement will not be released by the courts.

Judge Hillman had already ruled in favor of Garibay on April 20, 2016 when he overruled seven causes of action in the lawsuit but did rule that an investigation of Garibay ordered by Chief Mike Marquez and carried out by Lt. Jose Aguayo “was conducted in a manner intended to invade, and did in fact invade, Plaintiff’s right to privacy guaranteed to him under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

The Judge ruled that there was sufficient evidence to show that Marquez and Aguayo’s actions “violated a clearly established constitutional right” to privacy, freedom of association, due process and equal protection. Hillman said arguments in the final complaint will come down to a discussion as to whether adulterous conduct falls within the core of individual liberty stated in the First Amendment.

“The Court also recognizes defendants’ [City of Woodlake] admission in their reply papers that ‘there has existed since 2002, a clear conflict among the courts on the issue of whether adulterous sexual relationships were constitutionally protected in a way that would forbid public employees from disciplining and investigating their employees for such actions, and the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled one way or the other.”

The City of Woodlake’s appeal of Hillman’s decision was rejected by the Court of Appeals and the California Supreme Court and ultimately ended up at the Supreme Court of the United States for its First Amendment implications. On June 19, SCOTUS denied the petition sending the case back to Judge Hillman’s courtroom last September.

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