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Junction City settles fired officer's lawsuit.

Byline: Jack Moran The Register-Guard

Junction City, through its insurer, will pay $45,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a police officer who alleged he was wrongly fired in 2014 after complaining about the then-police chief's performance and refusing another supervisor's order to remove a mayoral candidate's campaign signs from property throughout the city.

The settlement in Nathan Rankin's federal case brings an end to personnel-related litigation brought by police department employees during former Police Chief Mark Chase's seven years with the city, Junction City Administrator Jason Knope said.

Chase was fired in April. One month later, he dropped a $300,000 lawsuit he had filed against the city last year. Chase's suit alleged that a former city administrator, Melissa Bowers, had discriminated against him and tried to force him to resign partly because of his Christian beliefs.

Chase spent seven months away from the police department after being placed on administrative leave in July 2014, soon after a number of city employees had complained about mismanagement in the department.

Rankin said in his lawsuit that he was one of the complainants, and he alleged his role in the events that led to Chase's forced absence from work eventually factored into his firing.

Chase was still on administrative leave when Rankin lost his job. A police sergeant, Eric Markell, served as the department's interim chief at the time.

Rankin asserted in the lawsuit that he was fired Oct. 2, 2014, three weeks after he refused Markell's order to remove all political signs supporting then-Junction City mayoral candidate Karen Leach, who was defeated in that November's election by current mayor and former Police Chief Mike Cahill.

The suit alleged Rankin's termination was done both in retaliation for his complaint against Chase, as well as his refusal to follow Markell's direction. Officially, though, the city cited an unspecified "work rule violation" as the reason for firing him, the lawsuit asserts.

Knope on Monday declined to provide additional details about why Rankin was fired or to say if the city was prepared to defend itself had the case gone to trial.

Rankin's lawyer, Jeffrey Boiler of Vida, did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment on the settlement.

Rankin had initially sought a minimum of $1.5 million in damages in his lawsuit.

Rankin worked less than 17 months for the city before being fired. Chase gave him a positive work review in December 2013 in Rankin's only employment evaluation in Junction City, according to the lawsuit.

The settlement agreement states that the city's insurance company will pay Rankin a lump sum of $45,000. The deal also calls for the city to prepare for Rankin a reference letter that indicates he resigned pursuant to an agreement to settle litigation.

A no-liability clause in the agreement means the city does not admit any wrongdoing. The clause also applies to Chase and Markell, who were both named as defendants in Rankin's suit, along with the city.

Rankin is the second former Junction City police officer to settle legal claims with the city in recent months. In April, the City Council endorsed a severance agreement with former officer Corey Mertz that will provide him an estimated $10,000 in health care benefits over an 18-month period. Mertz, who had worked for the city since 1997, accused Chase and Markell of potentially damaging his reputation by making statements that cast him in a false light.

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Title Annotation:Courts; The city's insurer will pay $45,000 to Nathan Rankin
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 12, 2016
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