Federal judge narrows Oakdale cop's lawsuit

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 8, 2012 - 11:20 PM

Only Sean Coffey's claim that he was targeted for dismissal because of union activity can proceed, the judge ruled.

A federal judge has dismissed portions of a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by an Oakdale police officer, but left alive his claim that he was targeted because of a union action.

Sean Coffey sued Chief Bill Sullivan and the city of Oakdale after he was fired in 2009 after several disciplinary actions. An arbitrator reinstated him in 2010.

Coffey's firing came into public view after some Oakdale police officers accused Sullivan of harassment and alleged that Coffey was the latest victim. The union that represents most of the patrol officers, investigators and school resource officers -- Law Enforcement Labor Services Local 197 -- notified the city of a no-confidence vote in Sullivan's leadership.

Sullivan, who joined the Oakdale force in 1988, has denied harassing officers. Coffey filed suit in September 2010, accusing Sullivan of violating freedom of speech and retaliating against a whistleblower.

U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen, in an order issued Wednesday, dismissed Coffey's claims that the city of Oakdale should be held liable. Coffey "offers no evidence" that the City Council fired him because of knowledge Sullivan wanted to retaliate against him, she said.

Ericksen also dismissed Coffey's claim that because he reported a captain's "sexually inappropriate comments," his firing constituted a violation of his rights as a whistleblower. "The record does not contain sufficient facts for a jury to find that Coffey reported conduct that violated the law and that his termination resulted from that report," she wrote.

But the judge said Coffey's contention that Sullivan retaliated for Coffey's participation in the union vote should go to trial.

"A reasonable jury could conclude that Sullivan placed Coffey on administrative leave and recommended termination in order to deter him and the other officers from pursuing the vote of no confidence," she wrote.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles

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