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U.S. appeals court revives former Sierra Madre officer's retaliation suit

March 22, 2013|By Maura Dolan
  • Former Sierra Madre police Chief Marilyn Diaz.
Former Sierra Madre police Chief Marilyn Diaz. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

A former Sierra Madre police union official whose pay raise was delayed after he led a “no-confidence” vote against the police chief may sue for retaliation in violation of his free speech rights, a federal appeals court decided Friday.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of  Appeals unanimously overturned the dismissal of a lawsuit by Officer John Ellins, who headed the Sierra Madre Police Assn. from 2006 to 2010.

“Depriving Ellins of salary in retaliation for his protected speech was unconstitutional,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the court.

Ellins sued Sierra Madre and former Police Chief Marilyn Diaz for retaliation after she delayed signing an application that would have given him a 5% pay raise. He claimed she was punishing him because he had led the no-confidence vote and participated in two press releases that  criticized her performance.

Diaz countered that she delayed the paperwork only because Ellins had been under investigation by internal affairs and because she was waiting to learn whether he might be prosecuted. He wasn’t.

In reviving Ellins' suit,  the 9th Circuit said he was acting as a private citizen when he publicly criticized the police chief because his official duties did not include union activities.

“Comments made by a police officer acting in his capacity as a union representative are spoken as a private citizen, rather than pursuant to the officer’s official duties,” the court said.

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Twitter: @MauraDolan

maura.dolan@latimes.com

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