The City of Santa Monica has settled a lawsuit with resident Elizabeth Riel over a disputed job offer.
At itsJuly 14 meeting,City Councilapproved a $710,000 settlement.
“The Riel case would be settled without an admission of liability by the city for a payment in the amount of $710,000. All parties would be released from any future liability and there would be no possibility of any future litigation related to any of the facts of the case,” said City Attorney Marsha Moutrie.
Riel sued City Hall last year alleging a violation of her First Amendment rights when then-City Manager Rod Gould rescinded a job offer.
Riel was offered the position of Communications and Public Affairs Officer; however, Gould rescinded the offer the next month for what was described as “personnel reasons.” Gould has since retired.
Speculation for the decision focused on a 2006 donation made by Riel to a campaign that was running attack advertisements against Councilwoman Pam O’Connor, who was seeking reelection at the time. Riel also penned a column that appeared in the Daily Press, which was critical of decisions made by city officials.
O’Connor told the Daily Press in June of 2014 that she “might have commented” to Gould about her discomfort with the hiring of Riel. She went on to explain that she can’t tell the city manager what to do.
Riel filed a lawsuit against City Hall and Gould, claiming that her First Amendment rights had been violated, but dropped Gould from the suit earlier this year.
The City attempted to have the case dismissed arguing that Riels’ political activities would have impaired her ability to maintain professional relationships.
Gould, the lawsuit stated, told Riel that her past political involvement was the reason for her firing and a judge dismissed the City’s attempt to have the case thrown out.
The judge’s order said the City had a reasonable need to avoid disruption and maintain cooperation between staff and elected officials. However, the judge said Riel’s activities were constitutionally protected free speech and rescinding the job solely on those grounds would be unconstitutional.