Navin Sharma's fight with the city of Vancouver for firing him from the city's police force has ended with Sharma winning big.
The $1.65 million total settlement agreed to in mediation last week may be the biggest single-plaintiff employment-related settlement ever reported in Washington—and perhaps the Northwest, according to the legal research firm Jury Verdicts Northwest.
The settlement also allows Sharma to retire “in good standing,” get a “letter of gratitude” from Vancouver City Manager Pat McDonnell and have the city also ask the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission to reverse Sharma's police decertification.
“In terms of my integrity and credibility, I feel completely vindicated,” says Sharma, 52. “That is what mattered most to me.”
Sharma originally sued the city in 2006, alleging racial discrimination (he was born in India) and retaliation (see “Good Cop, Mad Cop,”
WW, July 30, 2008). For nearly two years, the city battled Sharma's federal lawsuit in a seemingly endless exchange of pre-trial motions, discovery and depositions. But that wrangling came to an end in mediation in Seattle last Thursday.
Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard did not immediately return a call seeking comment about the settlement. McDonnell and City Attorney Ted Gathe referred WW's calls to their outside counsel, Ed Harnden of the Barran Liebman firm, who was also unavailable.
Both of Sharma's lawyers, Scott Blankenship of Seattle and Greg Ferguson of Vancouver, who specialize in employment law, say the settlement was highly unusual beyond the size of the award.
“Normally, you agree on the monetary settlement first and all the other issues afterwards,” Ferguson says. “In this case, Navin insisted that we settle issues of integrity and then talk money.”
The settlement was the second Sharma has won against the city. After Sharma alleged racial discrimination and retaliation in a 2000 federal lawsuit, Vancouver agreed in 2001 to pay him $287,000 along with more fully support a pioneering Tactical Emergency Medical Services team that Sharma, also an emergency room nurse, started as an adjunct to the Vancouver SWAT team.
In his 2006 lawsuit, Sharma argued that after a four-year “protection” period expired following the first settlement, command officers—with the complicity of the city attorney's office and City Manager McDonnell—retaliated against him.
Ultimately, VPD fired him for making errors on DUII reports. Sharma and many of his VPD colleagues argued that his mistakes were routine and while unfortunate, largely inconsequential. Nonetheless, by filing so-called “Brady notices” with 90 members of the Clark County bar, the city attorney's office branded him the worst cop VPD had ever employed. The city attorney's office also took the remarkable step of asking the Clark County prosecutor to consider charging him with felonies for what Sharma's superiors and city lawyers have acknowledged were unintentional errors. The prosecutor declined to charge Sharma.
Over the past two years, Blankenship and Ferguson presented voluminous evidence that white VPD officers—including assistant chief Mitch Barker, the man who terminated Sharma—had committed more serious offenses and received far less or no punishment.
Judging by last week's settlement, it appears the mediator and the city's outside counsel found the evidence in Sharma's favor overwhelming.
“We never got our day in court,” Ferguson says, “But this settlement is nothing short of an admission of guilt by the city.”
Sharma says he plans to continue working regular shifts in the ER at Providence Hospital. He'd also like to
return to law enforcement, although not in Vancouver.
“I loved being a cop,” he says. “I wish none of this [his legal battle] ever had to happen … I remain concerned that nobody [in VPD or city government] will be held accountable for what happened to me and that the retaliatory culture there will continue.”