Former Medina Police Chief Jeffrey Chen was a victim of racial or ethnic discrimination when he was fired from his job, and he is entitled to $2 million in compensation, a federal jury said Tuesday.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly will decide at a future hearing whether to order the city to reinstate him in the position he lost two years ago.
An eight-member jury found that Medina and its city manager, Donna Hanson, discriminated against Chen, a Chinese-American, under three separate sections of federal and state law, and denied him due process. Hanson was ordered to pay $25,000 in punitive damages, in addition to the roughly $2 million in compensation to Chen from the city for back pay, future pay and emotional harm.
“The message is that discrimination is not allowed, it will not be tolerated,” said Chen’s attorney, Marianne Jones.
After hugging Jones and supporters who included two former City Council members, a tearful Chen said he was thrilled by his victory but said he had to sue the city to clear his name.
“I want to go back to work in the profession I’ve worked hard at. My service to the public has always been near and dear to my heart. I would love to serve the community and the great citizens of Medina and Hunts Point and I look forward to that,” Chen said.
The verdict followed an 11-day trial in which Chen claimed he was fired because of his Chinese-American ancestry while city attorneys portrayed him as a corrupt cop who had to go.
Jones said in her closing argument Monday that Hanson fired Chen because of her “old-school racism” directed at the only nonwhite department head in the city. She cited racist comments attributed to Hanson.
Suzanne Michael, representing the defendants, told the jury Chen was a corrupt officer who lied to his boss, spent city funds for his own use, bullied his subordinates, snooped in other officials’ emails, fixed traffic tickets and justified his decisions by writing memos addressed to himself and falsely attributed to subordinate officers.