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Mirka lawsuit goes to appeal

"Within the next few months, a federal appellate judge will decide if an anti-discrimination suit filed against the city of Langley more than two years ago will go back to trial.Ten months ago, a U.S. District Court judge in Seattle ruled that the city did nothing wrong when it told a volunteer worker that her services were no longer wanted. That worker, Julane Mirka of Langley, filed suit against the city after losing her position as a front desk receptionist at city hall, claiming that Langley's mayor, Lloyd Furman, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in dismissing her. Mirka was battling cancer at the time of her dismissal.Judge David Wilson did not consider that action a violation of the ADA. In his Dec. 20, 1999 decision, Wilson sided with the city, writing that as a volunteer for the city, Mirka was not covered under the acts. The only way she could sue on those grounds would be if she had been part of an organized volunteer program that received some sort of official funding. Further, Wilson ruled that Mirka was not dismissed from service entirely due to her illness after Furman testified that he asked Mirka to leave after he observed her distracting the city's paid employees.Wilson's decision is expected to be reviewed by the 9th District Court of Appeals by the end of this year. If a three-judge panel finds flaws in Judge Wilson's decision, it could send the case back for retrial. That would cost Langley and its insurance risk pool a good deal of money.Exactly how much is the question -- a question even Mayor Furman cannot answer. He said the city has not kept track of how much it has spent defending itself against Mirka's lawsuit. So far, the Association of Washington Cities risk pool has paid for much of the city's legal expenses. But there are other costs, including Furman's time and time put in by Eric Lucas, who serves as both city attorney and city administrator.In terms of time and effort, it's been substantial, Furman said.If the appeal is successful and if the Mirkas win their case in a second appearance before the district court, the judgment could cost the city some big money. Mirka is seeking a minimum of $350,000 in damages.Todd Nichols, an attorney working for Mirka, said Monday that he believes the appellate court will call for a retrial. He said Judge Wilson dismissed Mirka's case on a technicality -- the fact that volunteers are not explicitly referred to in the ADA. That was the wrong conclusion to make, Nichols said.We should assume all citizens are covered by anti-discrimination laws, he said.Nichols said the appeals court has Mirka's case under consideration and should make a decision within two months. "

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