Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Newport Beach’s insurance company on Monday settled wrongful-termination lawsuits filed by a former Newport Beach police dispatcher and her husband, a former police officer.

Christine and John Hougan will receive $500,000 in the settlement of the two suits. A trial on Christine Hougan’s lawsuit started earlier this month and had been expected to finish by the end of the month.

City Manager Dave Kiff expressed some disappointment in the settlement, preferring to let the city’s side of the issue come out in trial testimony more.

“I don’t like this aspect of litigation,” Kiff said. “It means that the city won’t have an opportunity to present its side of the case to the jury and we think the trial was going very well for us. The insurance carriers seemed to have considered the economics of pursuing both cases through costly and complete trials, and have made their decision. I’m not a fan of how this works, but I understand it.”

Christine Hougan’s attorney, Melanie Svarese, disputed the city did not get a chance to present its side of the issue.

“The attorneys representing the city had ample opportunity and presented ample evidence on the city’s behalf, as the plaintiff called a number of the city’s witnesses in her case,” Savarese told City News Service. “While the Hougans made a claim of retaliation and the city of course denied it, we think that a fair settlement has been reached for all of the parties.”

City officials denied proposing a settlement and did not have a direct hand in paying any of it out of the city’s budget.

When the trial began, Savarese told jurors that Christine Hougan received positive job reviews for years until her husband joined the union representing the city’s officers and testified against management in a colleague’s civil harassment case.

An attorney for the city, however, said a close friend of Christine Hougan led an internal investigation that resulted in her dismissal in 2012 based on 11 rules violations, any one of which could have justified her termination.

Much of Hougan’s on-the-job issues begin when her husband, who was also fired by the city in 2012, got involved with the union, which was questioning how then-Police Chief John Kline was hired, Savarese told jurors.

John Hougan then testified on behalf of former Officer Neil Harvey in his lawsuit alleging he was harassed because some co-workers in the department believed he was gay. Harvey won a jury verdict of more than $700,000 in 2009.

John Hougan was fired for viewing pornography on his work computer, said attorney Chris Wesierski, who represented the city in Christine Hougan’s suit.

During trial of Harvey’s harassment suit, co-workers made derogatory comments about Hougan’s husband and left news articles about the trial in the office so she could see them, Savarese said. Someone even once left a photo of a bomb on John Hougan’s desk, the attorney said.

Christine Hougan was “written up” for a profanity-laced conflict with a co-worker after he made a sarcastic remark about her tendency to criticize Police Chief Jay Johnson, and 90 minutes later she was visibly upset by a 911 call about a young boy who found his mother unresponsive, Savarese said.

Hougan’s co-workers knew she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder following the rape and murder of her mother, whom her daughter found dead, Savarese said.

Hougan also found herself in trouble for indignantly confronting her boss over “wife swapping” statements he made about her at a civil service board hearing regarding her husband’s firing, Savarese said.

City officials essentially based their firing of Hougan on her PTSD symptoms, Savarese said.

Hougan was also fired for discussing the private civil service board hearing with a friend, according to the attorney. Other officers who committed worse rules violations were not only kept on the job, but received promotions, Savarese said.

Hougan was fired in part for her penchant to use her work email to insult the police chief and lash out at her husband with profanity, Wesierski said.

Christine Hougan angrily confronted Johnson about the “wife swapping comment,” not realizing that it came up during the civil service board hearing because it was something her husband searched for online while viewing illicit pictures, Wesierski said. During that conflict, she referred to her boss as “hon,” Wesierski said.

When John Hougan was caught viewing pornography on his work computer from 30 minutes to an hour each day, his supervisors “tried to save him” by demoting him from sergeant to patrol officer, the city’s attorney said. John Hougan admitted the conduct was “embarrassing” but repeated it, prompting his firing, Wesierski said.

City  News Service

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