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Jury Rules Against Former Oakland Administrator In Termination Lawsuit

OAKLAND (CBS SF) - An Alameda County jury took only 40 minutes Monday to reject a lawsuit filed by former Oakland City Administrator Deborah Edgerly claiming that former Mayor Ron Dellums fired her because she was a woman.

Dellums, a former congressman who served as Oakland's mayor from January 2007 to January 2011, fired Edgerly on July 1, 2008.

Edgerly had worked for the city for 22 years and former mayor Jerry Brown, now California's governor, appointed her city administrator on July 2, 2003.

At the time Dellums fired her, Edgerly was under investigation for allegedly tipping off her nephew, city employee William Lovan, that the Oakland Police Department was investigating the Acorn gang.

Police said the gang was the worst in the city and claimed that Lovan was a member.

Lovan pleaded no contest in 2009 to a felony charge of carrying a concealed and unregistered firearm in a car as a result of the police probe into the Acorn gang but no charges were ever filed against Edgerly.

Dellums said Edgerly was distracted by the allegations and that it was interfering with her job, but said the main reason he fired her was that he and Edgerly had stopped communicating effectively with one another.

Edgerly's lawyer, John Scott, alleged in his closing argument in Edgerly's wrongful termination case Monday that Dellums "discriminated against my client because of her gender."

Dellums testified last week that he never discriminated against Edgerly.

But Scott alleged today that Dellums' testimony was "a knee-jerk reaction of denial and self-righteousness."

Scott asked, "What makes him so special and makes him different from the hundreds of thousands of other men who don't see women as equals?"

Scott said he would leave it to jurors to determine how much in monetary damages Edgerly should be awarded, saying she has been unable to find a new job since Dellums fired her despite applying to many cities across the country.

"My client didn't bring this action for money, she brought it to clear her name," Scott said.

He said, "Nothing is more important to her than her reputation and name and career."

Attorney Robert Shwarts, who represents the city of Oakland, told jurors, "There's no evidence in the record to conclude that gender discrimination motivated this decision (to fire Edgerly) in any way.

He instructed jurors on how to evaluate Dellums.

"You're looking at a man who had a long and distinguished public life and was involved in progressive issues and women's issues," he said.

Shwarts said Edgerly's "attacks on Mayor Dellums are shameful and she wants you to substitute her reputation for his."

After the jury's verdict was announced, Shwarts said its quick decision showed that "there was nothing much to debate" because Edgerly hadn't met her legal burden of proving that Dellums discriminated against her.

Shwarts said that under Oakland's form of government the city administrator serves at the pleasure of the mayor, and that Dellums fired Edgerly lawfully.

"There's no question his decision to replace her was justified and lawful," he said.

Scott said jurors never heard Edgerly's strongest claim that she was wrongfully terminated, because Alameda County Superior Court Judge John True didn't allow them to hear evidence about her claim that Dellums fired her in retaliation for her refusal to follow orders from him that would have violated the city charter.

"Gender discrimination was a weaker claim but it was the only one we were left with to try before a jury," Scott said.

He said the trial "came down to a beauty contest between Ron Dellums and Deborah Edgerly, and Ron Dellums won."

Scott said Dellums "is quite an experienced and dynamic politician who put on quite a performance in the courtroom."

(Copyright 2011 by CBS SF. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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