published Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Former officers to receive $840,000

Chattanooga has dropped its appeal of a hefty jury award to two former officers who won an age discrimination suit against the police department earlier this year.

And city officials have signed checks over to T.E. "Skip" Vaughn and Charles Cooke for $840,000, the total cost of the settlement, interest, attorney's fees and the city's appeal.

Both former deputy chiefs, who were fired in 2007 and replaced by younger, lower-paid officers, said the settlement doesn't lessen the sting of the abrupt ends to their careers with the Chattanooga Police Department.

"There isn't a day that doesn't go by that I don't miss the work," said Vaughn, who worked as a police officer for 35 years. "What they took from us they can't ever replace. ... To have it end the way it did, it was tough to take."

Cooke, who joined the Chattanooga department when he turned 21 and served 28 years, also called the settlement bittersweet.

"We have been vindicated, but it's no big joy that we won anything," he said. "We just got back what they took from us. We gave this city a tremendous amount of work, and to be done the way we were done was totally wrong."

Richard Beeland, the city spokesman, had little comment Thursday.

"We felt it was in the best interest to drop the appeal, pay and move on," Beeland said.

Calls to City Attorney Mike McMahan weren't returned.

Vaughn and Cooke's lawsuit claimed that then-Chief of Police Freeman Cooper fired them only a few months after saying he wanted to bring younger people into his administration. Vaughn was 59 and Cooke was 49 at the time they were fired.

During the trial, the men testified that Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield told them they had been replaced by three individuals, two younger than Cooke and all three younger than Vaughn.

Attorneys for the city have said the men's positions were eliminated for budgetary reasons.

In a 92-page brief filed with the Tennessee Court of Appeals in September, city attorneys asked that the $750,000 judgment be thrown out because jurors weren't given evidence showing employee misconduct.

Hundreds of sexually explicit e-mails were found on Vaughn's computer after his position was eliminated, the brief stated.

The brief also argued that the jury verdict for Cooke, which included pay until age 62, was speculative and contrary to law in age-discrimination cases.

Lee Davis, the former officers' attorney, said the city appeal was nothing more than an attempt to stall payment to the former officers and a waste of taxpayer money.

"At no point did the city ever deal with these longtime officers in good faith," Davis said.

Davis also said the city fatally damaged any case it may have had by missing a basic legal step.

After the jury verdict in January, city attorneys never filed a motion for a new trial, and, in effect, waived their right to an appeal, he said.

"It took a jury to render a verdict in their favor and still the city delayed it for nearly a year with this appeal process," Davis said. "I am grateful that it's over. ... (These officers) shouldn't have been through this to begin with."

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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cornmeal said...

It was a poor and costly decision to shove these two chiefs out the door. What a waste of the experience and expertise of these two individuals. What a waste of taxpayer money too. How about attorney's fees? Is the city going to pay those too?

December 3, 2010 at 1:20 a.m.
joepulitzer said...

It's the New World Order in business USA: Out with the old; in with the new. And yet, what goes around, still comes around.

December 3, 2010 at 6:21 a.m.
fairmon said...

This is just another example of the mayors inept management of city business. The inefficiency of his management and the councils failure to recognize and address wasteful spending borders on being criminal. The added departments and staffing has grown city government a heck of a lot more than the city has grown. Voter apathy and governing ignorance led to the mayor and his bandits confiscation of more citizen wealth through a property tax increase, sewer rates and water run off fee increases, permit and inspection fee increases and other initiatives detrimental to citizens and businesses under the pretense of helping us. The police and fire departments are ignored and abused while many non-essential and non-additive initiatives are funded and supported.

Chattanooga city and Red Bank residents would be wise to petition the county to absorb and abolish city governments. God forbid the city absorb the county under any metro government concept. I can understand and support those resisting annexation or metro government where the city assumes governing responsibility.

December 3, 2010 at 6:57 a.m.
inquiringmind said...

I agree the age discrimination problem stinks but in this case the only reason they won is not because of the obvious discrimination but because a city atorney didn't do his or her job right and missed a deadline for appeal.

Remember that the next time you seek legal help.

December 3, 2010 at 7:38 a.m.
tcrashfx said...

No, inquiringmind, the reason the City lost is a jury voted for the officers and against the City after hearing all the evidence. I will agree that the City failed to meet a clear deadline in filing an appeal. An even more costly appeal based on frivolous and unrelated issues, in my opinion, that most likely would not have been successful.

If, as alleged by the City, one of these Chiefs had been sending improper emails, why wasn't he fired for that which would have probably withstood a court challenge? Most likely the emails weren't improper, or they didn't exist.

Just another example of on-going mismanagement by our City's leaders.

December 3, 2010 at 8:03 a.m.

Harp3339 It is all about the worst mayor ever, Littlefield inept administration. The reason the appeal was dropped by the City, the City attorney failed to file a motion to amend or alter prior to developing and submitting a 92 page appeal to appeals court in Knoxville. In other words, Mike McMahon, City Attorney, failed to follow a very elementary judicial procedure, and file a motion to the ruling judge prior to filing the appeal, fatal move, and malpractice. The taxpayers must now fork over about 1 million of tax payer money with attorney fees, because of poor decision making by Littlefield, and attorney malpractice. These police officers were career good men, that Littleman tried to shaft and lost. Now we pay. They are running this City into the ground.

December 3, 2010 at 8:22 a.m.
ann said...

inquireing mind sure does asume a lot i think should change name to nosey mind,must work for them or is related some how

December 3, 2010 at 3:14 p.m.
malcomb said...

ANOTHER example that Ron Littlefield and his ENTIRE Administrative staff are idiots! These men were wronged. The didn't kiss his @## and they were wrongfully discharged. I wish Littlefield had to pay the award out of his own pocket....of course since he's spending our money I guess he can afford to be this stupid. God help Chattanooga now that Claude Ramsey is moving to Nashville and State Government. Maybe since Jim Coppinger is the front runner to replace Claude Ramsey he will have the opportunity to put the man that forced him out as Fire Chief in his place. Ron Littlefield has ridden Mr. Ramsey's coat tails long enough. Maybe the people of Chattanooga will finally see him for the idiot he is and put his butt on the road!

December 3, 2010 at 6:41 p.m.

Vaugn and Cook, the Littleman is all about revenge and he lost on this one. Remember Littlefield testified and the jury did not find him credible. laugh and have a nice vacation or something.

December 4, 2010 at 12:20 a.m.
fairmon said...

The king and his court are inept managers and tax payers are suffering for it. Our only hope is that competent replacement candidates are available in 2012 if we can survive the incompetence and mismanagement that long. I see another property tax increase and other confiscation of residents funds coming next year if not sooner. One thing you can be sure of is no one in this administration will attempt to reduce cost or abolish any of the politically motivated departments and positions or inefficiencies.

This mayor has never given the police and fire departments the respect and support they deserve. He is more interested in the ECA and similar "feel good" non essential and non growth spending initiatives. Claud Ramsey will be missed but it does indicate Haslem may know what he is doing and we have another good governor. Bredesen has done excellent dealing with some tough issues and representatives that are similar to our incompetent city council.

December 4, 2010 at 5:25 a.m.
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