Milpitas City Manager Tom Williams has threatened to sue Mayor Rich Tran and the city for harassing him, discriminating against him and defaming his character, according to a document obtained by the Milpitas Post.
In an 11-page letter to Tran and City Attorney Chris Diaz sent three weeks ago, Williams’ personal attorney, Claire Cochran of San Francisco-based Ad Astra Law Group, wrote:
“This letter operates as both a demand to cease and desist violations of the Civil Rights Act, which continues to repeatedly and aggressively be violated by Mayor Tran on an almost daily basis, and also to serve as notice of pending litigation for age related discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment, also stemming from Mayor Tran’s behavior.”
The letter demands $500,000 in damages for harming Williams’ reputation, $500,000 for emotional distress and $15,000 for reimbursement of attorneys fees to date.
The April 13 letter is dated the same day that the Milpitas City Council agenda was released for the April 18 regular council meeting. On April 17, a notice was posted on the city’s website calling for a special closed council session the next day with legal counsel about pending litigation against the city.
The letter and subsequent closed session notice came in the wake of a fractious exchange at the City Council’s April 4 meeting involving Williams, Tran and Diaz. At the meeting, Tran repeatedly asked that a vote on his proposal for a third-party review of Williams’ job performance be placed on the next meeting’s agenda. Diaz tried to advise Tran and the council that such a request should be made in closed session, not in public.
As the debate continued, Williams said he might bring in his private lawyer and Diaz warned the mayor any further public discussion of the matter that evening could expose the city to legal action.
In laying out the case against Tran in her letter, Williams’ attorney wrote that the mayor “openly and repeatedly disparaged Mr. Williams’ job performance as City Manager of Milpitas” during his Nov. 8 mayoral campaign.
Among other things, it quotes Tran’s statement in the Post just days before the election, in which he said: “If elected, I would make it a top priority to do a formal performance review of our City Manager Tom Williams.” “Mr. Williams has found ways to harm our city.” “The exodus of department leaders is alarming and the complaints of workplace harassment are widespread.”
The letter also alleges that, “In addition to these repeated and misguided public comments about Mr. William’s (sic) constitutionally protected job evaluations, Mayor Tran has followed up his statements by directly confronting Mr. Williams’ (sic) about his age (53), suggesting repeatedly that Mr. Williams should quit his job because he is ‘too old.’ ”
The letter goes on to accuse Tran of engaging in a “witch hunt unnecessarily and with malice” against Williams, in violation of his constitutional and employment rights.
The insults didn’t end with the election, according to the letter. On around Jan. 20, the letter says Tran entered Williams’ office and said: “Hey, what’s up. Now ya know I told the voters I had to investigate you, so noth’en personal but I gotta do what I gotta do. Hey, by the way, when are you going to retire? I need to mix it up with some younger people around here. People that look more like me.”
In addition, the letter states that a couple of months later, on around March 19, Tran approached Williams inside his office and said: “I am going to put your review on the Council agenda. I don’t care what your contract says, I don’t care about (a former employee) and all that, my job is to get rid of you for my people. You old guys need to move out of the way.”
Asked in an email Friday about the potential litigation, Williams replied “I have no comment.”
Tran told the Post that although he is a proponent of government transparency, he couldn’t comment about any possible litigation.
“But I can speak about myself,” Tran added. “I am a full-time social worker that works with people of all ages and I protect them against discrimination. And I work with the most vulnerable folks in our community. I also serve in the military as a reservist and I understand the chain of command and understand customs and courtesy, and those are the core values that I live by and I don’t discriminate based on any type of social category. If anybody wants to accuse me of discrimination I can’t comment on it, but I would just ask folks to look at my actions and my demonstration, not only since I’ve been mayor but also my professional background.”
Councilman Anthony Phan said of the potential litigation, “I am hopeful that all conflicts can be resolved amicably because it is in the interest of the city when we all work together as a team, and that entails putting differences aside and working toward our similarities and shared goals.”
Earlier this week, the Milpitas Police Officers’ Association entered the fray by issuing a statement, approved by its board on April 28, supporting Williams. The statement cites Williams’ accomplishments during his tenure and notes that after reviewing his job performance last year the City Council gave him a “longevity raise.” The statement ends by calling on “all residents who support and appreciate the work he has done for the residents and the City to join us in supporting Mr. Williams.”
Asked why the union decided to interject itself in the controversy, association president Tara James wrote in an email: “The MPOA Board of Directors and I have noticed negative comments being made about our City Manager on social media and during council meetings. One of our city officials has claimed some city employees and Milpitas citizens feel the City Manager has not done a good job. We do not agree with this view of his work history. We felt sharing our opinion and showing our support was the right thing to do.
“No one outside of the MPOA Board suggested we publish our opinion. Tom Williams did not ask us to support him or write him a Statement of Support. Had he, we probably would not have done it.
“All employees have rights. When those rights are continually violated, including the violating of a contract, we believe his choices were to sit there and unfairly continue to be a defenseless punching bag or to sue. We do not hold his filing suit against him. We commend him for demonstrating the courage to stand up to abuse.”
Williams’ attorneys filed an injunction Friday to block the release of documents and emails requested by this paper and San Jose Inside related to the April 18 closed session. Cochran claims the release of the requested records “will cause great and irreparable injury to the plaintiff…directly with regard to his reputation and current position as City Manager of Milpitas,” according to the motion.
Santa Clara County Superior Judge Mary Arand granted Williams a temporary restraining order barring the city from releasing records associated with the April 18 closed council session.
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