Chen trial set for August 11th

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Jeffrey Chen

By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly

Jeffrey Chen’s long wait for his retrial to determine whether he was the victim of racial discrimination will soon come to an end when his lawsuit against the City of Medina goes to trial August 11th. Chen, the former police chief of Medina, filed a lawsuit on December 16, 2011 against the City of Medina and City Manager Donna Hanson claiming that he was ousted from his position due to his race.

Chen, who is Chinese American, was employed by the City of Medina Police Department from June 1, 2001 to April 27, 2011. He claims that he was subjected to racial slurs while employed by the City of Medina.

Specifically, it is claimed that there is direct evidence of City Manager Donna Hanson’s racially insensitive comments including, “I thought you Chinese people were supposed to be more patient than this!” and “Do you people celebrate Thanksgiving?” He was also referred to as a “Chinaman.”

Chen has retained an expert that would testify at trial about racial discrimination and its impact on Chen.

In the trial brief filed by Chen’s lawyers, he is seeking to be reinstated as Chief of Police at the City of Medina.

He is also seeking future pay and benefits, back pay and benefits, compensatory damages for harm to his reputation, and emotional damages.

Chen was appointed City of Medina Police Chief in June 2010. Starting in November 2010, a series of events led to Chen leaving his post. An independent investigator was hired by the City due to reports of unauthorized access into its records. In December 2010, the investigator interviewed Chen about complaints of unauthorized activity. Chen resigned promptly after the query, but revoked his resignation shortly thereafter. He was then placed on administrative leave after returning from his resignation.

According to the City of Medina, Chen utilized a work credit card for his own personal use. He is accused of purchasing three iPod Touch devices and two North Face jackets with City-issued credit cards. In February 2011, an internal investigation performed by the City claims that Chen voided citations for influential Medina residents, utilized a work vehicle for personal use, and tried to access the City’s e-mail archive.  An abuse of power in his position was one of the reasons for Chen’s dismissal.  As a result, Chen resigned in April 2011 and filed a lawsuit against the City of Medina and its City Manager.

Originally, after 11 days of trial in March 2013, a jury awarded Chen $2 million, which included back pay, loss of income, and $100,000 in emotional damages. The jury determined that race played a role in the eventual dismissal of Chen in April 2011.   In an unusual move by the trial court, Judge Thomas Zilly set aside the jury verdict citing that the evidence did not support the jury award. As a result, the $2 million jury award was nullified and a new trial was ordered. The decision for the judge to intervene was not common.  The need for a new trial was due to the allegation that Chen’s attorney utilized inferences that race played a part in Chen’s firing when a pretrial order limited this in front of the jury. Judge Zilly will not be the judge when the case goes to trial on August 11th. (end)

Both parties have submitted a proposed list of witnesses that may testify at trial. They include the Mayor of Medina, members of the Medina City Council, and the Medina Police Department.  

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

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