The California Court of Appeal on Thursday upheld a unanimous jury verdict in a retaliation case involving San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera.
The court upheld the jury’s finding that Herrera illegally retaliated against San Francisco Chief Trial Deputy Joanne Hoeper by firing her after she discovered a scheme happening at Herrera’s office.
The court upheld the jury’s verdict, awarding Hoeper $5 million in damages and attorney’s fees.
According to Hoeper’s attorneys, Hoeper found evidence that the City Attorney’s Claims Unit colluded with plumbing companies to pay hundreds of illegal claims involving alleged damage to sewers that weren’t really damaged.
Hoeper learned the scheme went as far back as 2007 and cost taxpayers an estimated $10 million, her attorneys said.
According to Hoeper’s attorneys, when Hoeper informed Herrera of her findings, a Claims Unit employee allegedly told her:
“You’ll be sorry.”
After Hoeper was fired, Herrera claimed it was because of his dissatisfaction in her handling of matters years prior to the sewer investigation. The jury, however, found that Herrera’s criticism was pretextual and her firing was to cover up the scheme, Hoeper’s attorneys said.
Hoeper said in a statement:
“I lost the career I loved protecting the city I love.”
“I hope this long-delayed victory encourages other public employees to do the right thing, be true to their oath and report wrongdoing. I hope it sends a strong signal to the city attorney and to other elected officials that, at least in California, firing whistleblowers is illegal and there will be consequences.”