The city of New Brighton has agreed to a $285,000 settlement in a whistleblower lawsuit brought by a now retired police officer who had filed a grievance about overtime pay against the city.
Sgt. Steven Moore filed the grievance in March 2015. Within a month, the city launched a misconduct investigation against Moore and placed him on paid leave, forbidding him from leaving his home during work hours — a restriction that continued "seven months longer than the city took to complete its investigations," according to an appellate court ruling in the case.
The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, which represents the Ramsey County suburb and is covering the cost of the settlement, reached the agreement with Moore in late April, just weeks before the case was scheduled to go to trial.
"First and foremost we are pleased that Mr. Moore was able to receive a settlement he was satisfied with," said his attorney, Lucas Kaster. "When employees complain about unlawful conduct in the workplace, especially in law enforcement, they are protected. They cannot be retaliated against for those types of complaints."
Under the settlement, the city makes no admission of "wrongful conduct or liability."
Attorney Jana O'Leary Sullivan, assistant litigation supervisor for the League of Minnesota Cities, said in an e-mail that the city "believes the well-documented and compelling evidence shows it had tenable, non-retaliatory reasons for its employment decisions."
The trial, originally scheduled for November 2020, ended in a mistrial after two jurors fell ill with COVID-19 symptoms.
Under the terms of the settlement, both Moore and the city agree to not make any "negative or disparaging statements" about each other. Moore, who had worked for the department since 1989, also agreed to retire in April.
According to court filings, Moore filed a grievance in March 2015 seeking overtime pay for mandatory training, citing officers' collective bargaining agreement. Other officers joined Moore's grievance and the city eventually agreed to pay all employees overtime for the training.
In April of that year, the city launched an investigation into Moore for allegations of improperly approving a subordinate officer's unscheduled work hours and fraudulently calling in sick. While Moore was on leave, the city ordered him to remain at home from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. He also was barred from discussing the investigation with anyone.
In July 2015, the city informed Moore that his approval of a subordinate officer's unscheduled work hours violated department policy, and he would have to serve a five-day unpaid suspension. That was later reduced to a written reprimand, with the city repaying him for the suspension.
However, the city failed to tell Moore that he had been exonerated of the sick time violation, instead keeping him on leave until March 2016. Upon his return to work, Moore was reassigned from managing officer to a desk job overseeing vehicles and equipment. He was given a negative job review.
"In contrast to all his previous evaluations, Moore's 2015 evaluation asserted that every aspect of Moore's performance was unacceptable, needing improvement," according to the Appeals Court ruling.
During the case, the city said it extended Moore's leave "because [Moore's] union representative and the city were discussing a potential early retirement and severance package," according to the appeals court ruling.
A trial judge dismissed Moore's case in the fall of 2018, but the Court of Appeals reversed that decision, in part, "because evidence showing that the city maintained the administrative, homebound leave for a period so long and so inconsistent with its purported reason for commencing the leave creates a material fact dispute as to whether the city's actions 'penalized' the sergeant under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act and whether the city's reason is pretextual."
Shannon Prather • 651-925-5037