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Fired Langley cop sues city, police for ‘retaliation’
A former Langley police officer is taking the city, the police guild and its new police chief to Island County Superior Court.
Mitch Hardin filed a lawsuit in Island County Superior Court against Langley, the Langley Police Guild and Chief Dave Marks for breach of contract and unfair labor July 11. He and attorney Donald Heyrich of HKM Employment Attorneys in Seattle ask that he receive money for economic damages, be fully reinstated with the Langley Police Department and that his legal fees be covered.
The 13-page complaint for damages and injunctive relief outlines Hardin’s side of a dispute, one that saw him transition from the department’s darling in March 2013 into a pariah nine months later. He was fired Jan. 22 — one month after being voted as the Langley Police Guild president — by Marks, who had taken over the department as its interim chief in August 2013 before being officially hired in early June 2014.
Marks declined to comment on the advice of the city’s legal representation at Lighthouse Law Group of Seattle.
“I’ve been told not to say anything,” Marks said, with a sigh, in a phone interview Thursday.
Mayor Fred McCarthy, however, defended the city’s position and right to fire Hardin because he was in a one-year probationary period.
“It is the standard practice in municipal government to operate with a probationary period for new employees,” McCarthy said in a prepared statement sent to The Record. “This period is to determine whether the individual is the best fit for the needs of a local municipality. During the probationary period a new employee can be released for any non-discriminatory reason. We released an employee who was on probation because the employee, in the view of the city, did not satisfactorily fulfill the expectations of their probationary employment.”
Hardin was hired by now-retired chief Randy Heston. Having moved here to be closer to his family from the Detroit area of Michigan, Hardin came highly qualified after a 13-year career as a sheriff’s deputy. Before Heston left Langley, he completed a performance review of Hardin that included praise such as “positive role model,” “received numerous positive compliments from citizens,” and “good team player.”
Even after Marks assumed duties as the police chief, Hardin had high marks in a review. He scored 94 out of 105 possible points on an evaluation in mid-December.
Problems began, Hardin alleges in the lawsuit, in late December 2013. The Langley City Council was pursuing a newly-created ethics ordinance. Part of that included the formation of an ethics board, which was scrapped by Mayor Fred McCarthy and the council before members of the commission who wrote the ordinance spoke against the decision. Concerns surfaced, however, from the Langley Police Guild and the Fraternal Order of Police about the ethics commission’s ability to evaluate police matters, such as a citizen’s complaint. Those were worked out between the city, the police and the ethics commission, and the ordinance was approved earlier this year.
But Hardin claims it was Marks behind the pushback from the police guild, even though Hardin was the Langley Police Guild president by late December.
A month later, Hardin was fired from the Langley Police Department. The termination was “retaliation,” Hardin claims, for “failing to pursue Marks’ attacks on the ethics ordinance,” as well as Hardin’s voiced desire to have on-call pay be part of the police guild’s next collective bargaining agreement.
Hardin and his lawyer allege that the firing and the process violated the terms of the guild’s collective bargaining agreement, and that Marks “attempted to cover up his discriminatory motives by fabricating false CBA [collective bargaining agreement] documents… .”
Two days after being fired, Hardin filed a grievance, outlined as step 1 in the collective bargaining agreement. It was denied, Hardin claims, by Marks on Feb. 3. Step 2 was then pursued, with Hardin sending the grievance to McCarthy. It was never responded to, according to the claim. The final step of arbitration never occurred, the claim states, “because of Marks’ animus toward Hardin, and Marks’ interference with the decisions of the guild.”
The grievance article of the guild agreement covers complaints about disciplinary action, however, and does not expressly state termination.
Management rights in the agreement state, “The employer shall have the right to discipline or discharge employees for just cause.”