Former officers to receive $840,000

Former officers to receive $840,000

December 3rd, 2010 by Joan Garrett McClane in News

Chattanooga has dropped its appeal of a hefty jury award to two former officers who won an age discrimination suit against the police department earlier this year.

And city officials have signed checks over to T.E. "Skip" Vaughn and Charles Cooke for $840,000, the total cost of the settlement, interest, attorney's fees and the city's appeal.

Both former deputy chiefs, who were fired in 2007 and replaced by younger, lower-paid officers, said the settlement doesn't lessen the sting of the abrupt ends to their careers with the Chattanooga Police Department.

"There isn't a day that doesn't go by that I don't miss the work," said Vaughn, who worked as a police officer for 35 years. "What they took from us they can't ever replace. ... To have it end the way it did, it was tough to take."

Cooke, who joined the Chattanooga department when he turned 21 and served 28 years, also called the settlement bittersweet.

"We have been vindicated, but it's no big joy that we won anything," he said. "We just got back what they took from us. We gave this city a tremendous amount of work, and to be done the way we were done was totally wrong."

Richard Beeland, the city spokesman, had little comment Thursday.

"We felt it was in the best interest to drop the appeal, pay and move on," Beeland said.

Calls to City Attorney Mike McMahan weren't returned.

Vaughn and Cooke's lawsuit claimed that then-Chief of Police Freeman Cooper fired them only a few months after saying he wanted to bring younger people into his administration. Vaughn was 59 and Cooke was 49 at the time they were fired.

During the trial, the men testified that Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield told them they had been replaced by three individuals, two younger than Cooke and all three younger than Vaughn.

Attorneys for the city have said the men's positions were eliminated for budgetary reasons.

In a 92-page brief filed with the Tennessee Court of Appeals in September, city attorneys asked that the $750,000 judgment be thrown out because jurors weren't given evidence showing employee misconduct.

Hundreds of sexually explicit e-mails were found on Vaughn's computer after his position was eliminated, the brief stated.

The brief also argued that the jury verdict for Cooke, which included pay until age 62, was speculative and contrary to law in age-discrimination cases.

Lee Davis, the former officers' attorney, said the city appeal was nothing more than an attempt to stall payment to the former officers and a waste of taxpayer money.

"At no point did the city ever deal with these longtime officers in good faith," Davis said.

Davis also said the city fatally damaged any case it may have had by missing a basic legal step.

After the jury verdict in January, city attorneys never filed a motion for a new trial, and, in effect, waived their right to an appeal, he said.

"It took a jury to render a verdict in their favor and still the city delayed it for nearly a year with this appeal process," Davis said. "I am grateful that it's over. ... (These officers) shouldn't have been through this to begin with."