Former City Attorney, Michael Ogaz, Begins Process for Multimillion Dollar Lawsuit Against the City of Milpitas

December 7, 2015

Michael Ogaz, the former City Attorney for Milpitas, filed a California Tort Claim and received a “right to sue” letter from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”), beginning the process for a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the City of Milpitas for its retaliatory discharge. These two actions are prerequisites for initiating formal legal proceedings against the City. Mr. Ogaz is represented by Adam J. Zapala and Joseph W. Cotchett of the law firm of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP. (“CPM”)

The filings allege that the City unlawfully retaliated against Mr. Ogaz for his participation in an investigation into potentially discriminatory and unethical conduct by Milpitas’s City Manager, Thomas C. Williams. As reported by several news outlets, Mr. Williams has been at the center of several high-profile personnel departures from the City of Milpitas.1 On October 1, 2015, the federal agency, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), filed a lawsuit alleging age discrimination by the City and Mr. Williams. Age discrimination was one of the issues Ogaz sought to investigate prior to being fired by the City.

CPM attorney, Adam J. Zapala, stated “as alleged in our filings, we strongly believe that the City of Milpitas’s firing of our client was unjust and motivated by the City’s desire to shut the door on any investigation into Mr. Williams’s workplace conduct. The extraordinarily coincidental timing of Mr. Ogaz’s firing raises serious questions by itself, but the explicit statements by Councilwoman Giordano make clear that the purported fiscal reasons for the firing were purely pretextual. We intend to vigorously litigate this case to ensure that courageous public servants, like Michael Ogaz, are protected from workplace bullies. It is critical that employees are free to oppose unlawful workplace conduct and participate in investigations without fear of retaliation.”

The pre-litigation filings allege that in the spring, Steve McHarris—the City’s Planning Director—filed a workplace complaint against Mr. Williams, alleging the use of racial slurs, age discrimination, defamation and unethical conduct with developers. As several news outlets reported, Mr. Ogaz alerted the City Council and sought to begin an investigation into the serious allegations. As the pre-litigation filings allege, almost immediately, Mr. Williams began enlisting the support of his allies on the City Council to head-off any serious investigation into his conduct. One day after launching an investigation into the personnel complaint and scheduling a Special Council session to discuss it, Councilwoman Debbie Giordano added an agenda item to the Council’s meeting to evaluate the performance of the City Attorney. Despite the City later claiming that Mr. Ogaz’s termination was the result of fiscal concerns, in press reports Councilwoman Giordano confirmed that she called for Mr. Ogaz’s ouster because of the investigation into Williams’s conduct.2 Mr. Williams also explicitly threatened Mr. Ogaz with retaliation if he followed through on an investigation into the potentially discriminatory and unethical conduct.