Oakland attorney wins $2 million in whistleblower lawsuit against city

A former deputy city attorney won a wrongful termination and whistleblower lawsuit against the city of Oakland. The Oakland Superior Court jury awarded Joanna Hoeper over $2 million for lost earnings and emotional distress.

According to the lawsuit, Hoeper was wrongfully terminated for uncovering what she suspected was an illegal scam in which municipal officials were approving unnecessary payments to plumbing companies. The jury believed the city fired Hoeper in retaliation for her whistleblowing actions, in violation of the California Whistleblower Protection Act.

Hoeper, who worked in the Oakland City Attorney’s Office, began a preliminary investigation in 2011 after an FBI agent tipped her off about possible fraud connected to the city’s sewer payment programs. She suspected two city attorney staffers were receiving kickbacks for directing around $10 million in taxpayer money to plumbing companies for needless sewer replacement work from 2002 to 2012.

After presenting a report to City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Hoeper was reassigned to the district attorney’s office before being fired in 2014. City officials argued that Hoeper was fired not in retaliation but actually due to her incompetence. They claimed Herrera had been actively looking to hire someone to replace her since 2010.

City officials also said Herrera supported Hoeper’s investigation and called for an end to the sewer payment program after receiving her report. They insisted there was no evidence of a scam. However, the jury found that the report did in fact play a role in the firing.

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