As defendants in a $1.4 million federal lawsuit filed last month by former Fire Chief David Bathke, the City of Ocean Shores and Mayor Crystal Dingler entered a 12-page response last week, denying or disputing the main points of Bathke’s claims that his dismissal earlier this year was a breach of contract and violation of his right to due process.
Filed last month in U.S. District Court Western District of Washington, the suit claimed that when Bathke was hired in June 2017, he was “told that the city had been without a fire chief for some time, that the union employees were running amok and needed to be controlled. Among other things, the employees were abusing the overtime budget and costing the city unneeded expense. Bathke was told that he needed to be a strong leader, ensure that the rank and file firefighters operate in accordance with city rules, established directives, and to reduce the out of control overtime pay.”
The City’s response, filed May 13, said, “That was never expressed to plaintiff and was not the case. Mayor Dingler did state to plaintiff that one of the jobs of the Fire Chief would be to reduce any unnecessary overtime because, at the time, the Fire Department was short-handed due to two employees on leave for L&I injuries and some employees working overtime to modify a government surplus truck that the department had recently acquired. Defendants deny telling plaintiff that union members were ‘running amok’ or that they ‘needed to be controlled.’”
The suit claimed that on Dec. 14, 2018, Bathke “with no notice whatsoever” was “handed a letter from the city’s mayor stating that he was being put on administrative leave because the union had taken a vote of no-confidence regarding him.”
The response stated, “Defendants deny that the December 14, 2018 letter … was ‘without any notice whatsoever.’ Approximately two weeks prior to this, Mayor Dingler met with plaintiff for over an hour to inform him of the rumored likelihood of a vote of no confidence by the union members. During this meeting, plaintiff denied any wrongdoing though he did not deny undermining the captains in an effort to push them into earlier retirement, stating that they (meaning the younger firefighters) were ‘the future’. In addition, the union president had told plaintiff repeatedly, prior to December 14, 2018, that he was losing the confidence of the firefighters by his actions.”
Bathke claimed his employment contract was breached because he was fired without cause, and that “the allegations against him are either completely false, or if there is some truth to them, they are so minor that they cannot possibly amount to the level of a ‘for cause’ termination.” The defendants denied that claim and also denied they had failed to follow disciplinary procedures that are found in the City’s guidelines.
The former chief’s suit alleged that he was denied due process when the Mayor presided at a “pre-disciplinary hearing,” because “the Mayor was serving as the investigator, the prosecutor, judge and executioner.” The suit said Bathke “objected and demanded that an independent adjudicator be appointed. This objection was overruled by the Mayor.” The response stated that “the mayor presided at this hearing as is standard practice.”
Bathke was officially terminated on March 25 and filed suit on April 23. He is represented by attorneys LyLy Nguyen of Ocean Shores and Scott Wellman of Laguna Hills, CA.
The City and Dingler are represented by Law, Lyman, Daniel, Kamerrer & Bogdanovich, P.S. and Ocean Shores City Attorney Brent Dille’s firm, Dille Law, PLLC, both practices in Olympia.