Employees lawsuit survives early challenge

SANTA ANA — A lawsuit filed by Costa Mesa employees disputing the city’s ability to outsource its services remained unscathed Tuesday after an Orange County Superior Court judge rejected the city’s latest challenge to the claim.

“The employees are grateful that calmer and more reasoned minds continue to prevail over the politically motivated agenda of the City Council majority,” Helen Nenadal, president of the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn., said in a news release.

The city’s defense attorneys fought two portions of the CMCEA’s lawsuit on grounds that the city’s contract with the association permitted the city to outsource any city services officials saw fit, provided employees were given six months notice.

In her ruling denying the city’s challenge, Judge Tam Nomoto Schumann told attorneys that the language in the employees’ contract was ambiguous enough that she could not side with the city, at least not yet.

The ruling doesn’t mean Schumann ruled in favor of the employees’ lawsuit, only that language of the contract was vague enough to survive this round of challenges from Costa Mesa.

“The judge accepted the union’s ‘interpretation’ of the labor contract between the employees’ association and the city,” said John A. Vogt, special counsel for the city of Costa Mesa, in a media release. “However, the city maintains the union’s alleged interpretation is not an interpretation at all, but rather a contradiction to the contract, which allows for outsourcing and even provides for a six-month notice for it. Unfortunately, the judge believes that she needed to accept the union’s ‘interpretation’ in ruling on a pleadings motion.

“This ruling doesn’t mean the union’s interpretation will survive summary judgment or trial or otherwise withstand scrutiny on appeal.”

A tentative trial date is scheduled for April. An injunction prevents the city from outsourcing city jobs to private companies, though it’s still allowed to explore the option.

Employees sued the city earlier this year after the City Council majority voted to outsource more than 40% of city services to lower future pension costs and increase spending on capital improvements.

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