Trial postponed in Jeff Chen case of discrimination

By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly

The jury trial of ousted Medina Police Chief Jeffrey Chen has been postponed from the original date of April 28. The trial, which will take place in Western Washington District Court, is scheduled to begin July 28, 2014.

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Jeffrey Chen

Chen filed a lawsuit on Dec. 16, 2011, against the City of Medina and City Manager Donna Hanson on the basis that he was dismissed from his job due to his race. Chen is Chinese American. He claimed that city officials and employees made derogatory statements about blacks and Asians, and disparaging remarks about Chen’s heritage.

In court filings, Chen allegated he was subjected to racial slurs, including being called a “regular Charlie Chan” and “Chinaman” by one of the City’s employees.

Chen was hired by the City of Medina on June 1, 2011, and became interim chief of police in early 2004. After internal conflict with the department, he submitted his resignation in December 2010, but revoked it six days later. He was then placed on administrative leave by the City and an internal investigation was launched.

The investigation by an independent investigator hired by the City, claimed evidence that Chen had voided citations for influential Medina residents, used his work vehicle to take a vacation, paid for gas with the City’s credit card, and tried to access the City’s e-mail archive. In April 2011, he resigned.

The City of Medina argued that Chen was discharged due in part to his abuse of power in his position.

After 11 days of trial in March 2013, a jury found in favor of Chen and awarded him $2 million. This included back pay, loss of income, and $100,000 in emotional damages. The jury found that race played a factor in the way that Chen was treated, and that it played a factor in his eventual dismissal in April 2011.

However, the Court, in a rare move and the first of its kind by Judge Thomas Zilly, set aside the jury verdict, finding that the jury’s award was not supported by the evidence presented at the trial. Chen’s $2 million verdict was wiped out and a new trial was ordered. Judge Zilly noted that Chen’s attorney intimated race was an issue when the Court originally ruled that any type of racial comments loosely attributed to former employees for the City had to be excluded because of its speculative nature.

While most judges allow the jury verdict to stand regardless of the weight of the evidence, Judge Zilly felt compelled to intervene by overturning the verdict.

The Court has put Chen’s attorney on notice that it will not tolerate further insinuations regarding race. Chen’s attorney recently submitted additional economic information on his behalf, which the City will evaluate in deposing the Chen’s expert witness. The City’s attorneys have objected to the use of the information, but the Court has allowed it for potential use at trial. (end)

Jason Cruz can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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