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San Diego OKs $1.3M Payment To Settle Lifeguard Lawsuit

The San Diego City Council Tuesday authorized nearly $1.3 million in payments designed to bring an end to litigation with two former employees in separate cases.

Most of that total is to settle a dispute over attorneys fees in the case of Alison Terry, a former high school champion swimmer and part-time municipal lifeguard who sued the city, claiming that she was denied the training necessary for full-time employment.

Terry, now a swim coach and Jackie Robinson YMCA board member, settled her part of the case four years ago for $100,000, but the fees due lawyer Michael Conger weren't finalized until recently. Conger will receive $875,000 in the deal approved unanimously by the council.


Terry is one of five lifeguards who sued, and all the cases are now complete. Her lawyer told City News Service that the problem remains.

"Women are consistently unable to get the (full-time) job, and aren't being promoted through the ranks," Conger said.

The lawyer also represents the plaintiff in the other case, Janet Wood. She contended that, beginning in 2002, the city's pension system favors married employees over unmarried members.

The City Attorney's Office said Wood sued in state and federal court and appealed numerous adverse rulings. She settled for around $68,000 last year, just before a trial was scheduled to begin.

Chief Deputy City Attorney Joe Cordileone said that until then, Wood never entertained a settlement offer less than "many millions of dollars" and Conger asked for at least $2 million in fees.


"The fact that we're paying $68,000 and zero attorney's fees to me makes this a grand slam home run," Cordileone said.

Conger said Wood was a highly regarded community services director who was honored by the City Council when she retired. However, she was divorced at the time, and she took the first settlement offer the city made, the lawyer said.

The council unanimously approved the settlement with Wood and authorized final payment of up to $350,000 for the law firm of Sullivan Hill Lewin Rez & Engel to wrap up the litigation. The firm, which represented the city, has already received about $1.75 million in fees over the past dozen years.

A city staff report said Wood might have been awarded $30 million of more if she had prevailed.

Conger said the various rulings made during the case will open the city up to numerous future lawsuits.