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Fired Bremerton employee wins lawsuit against city

A fired Bremerton city employee was awarded $225,000 by a federal jury Tuesday after it sided with her claims of defamation and contract interference against the city.

The decision came after a two-week trial in U.S. District Court in Tacoma in which former Public Works and Utilities employee Ann Beahm claimed wrongful termination from the city’s engineering division on the basis of age discrimination, defamation and interference with her contract — a claim that city employees made false accusations against her to get her fired.

Though the jury found in favor of the city on the age discrimination allegation, the decision to side with Beahm on the two other claims came with $225,000 in back pay, future pay and non-economic damages.

Beahm, who was fired in August 2007, was accused by public works management of being paid for 112 more hours than she actually worked over a six-month period.

“I’m disappointed with the verdict,” said Assistant City Attorney Mark Koontz, who handled the case. “I don’t think that the evidence that was presented supported the verdict.”

Observations made by city employees on the time Beahm spent in the office provided the foundation of the city’s argument. The 112-hour discrepancy between the time she spent in the office and the time she logged in payroll was a conservative count, with the initial gap counted to be 184 hours, Koontz said.

Beahm claimed that she was fired to make room for someone younger and prettier and argued that she took work home with her during the times she was not in the office.

“It’s clear to me that she’s completely vindicated,” said Beahm’s attorney, Clayton Longacre. “She wanted to show that they had violated the law and violated common decency.”

The city is considering making a motion before the trial judge to overturn the verdict, but a decision won’t be made for another several weeks, Koontz said.

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