DEL MAR — After receiving no response to a claim for damages stemming from his August 2017 firing, Pat Vergne filed a lawsuit against the city for at least $5 million, accusing City Manager Scott Huth and all five City Council members of defamation, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy and wrongful termination.
The former longtime community services director and chief lifeguard said he has no comment at this time.
City Attorney Leslie Devaney said by law the city has 45 days to accept or reject the claim Vergne filed Dec. 5.
“Since the claim was without merit, it was denied,” she stated in an email. “Lawyers for the defendants will challenge it in court and otherwise defend the lawsuit.”
Vergne’s responsibilities as community services director included overseeing his staff, beach safety and city facility rentals.
In July 2017 he was placed on paid administrative leave after two lifeguards filed separate complaints in March and April with the Human Resources Department.
Vergne was fired in August after a four-month outside investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct and misuse of public funds.
According to the lawsuit, filed Jan. 30, the city publicly and falsely proclaimed Vergne was placed on leave because he interfered with the “faulty investigative process.”
It also claims his cooperation in the investigation was fraudulently induced “by promising him his statements would be private and not used against him.”
He and another former employee were accused of costing the city about $200,000 by waiving or discounting facility use fees, submitting false claims for overtime, using a city credit card for personal purchases and paying a part-time city employee as an outside contractor to do work he was doing as part of his city job.
Vergne explained most of the allegations, agreeing there are some areas where he could have done better, but he did nothing to intentionally harm the city financially.
He said he modified facility use fees for events such as memorials and community gatherings and for employee functions.
During his tenure neither Huth nor any other city manager approached him with concerns about the way he was managing the department, he said.
According to the lawsuit, Huth and council members conspired against Vergne by making the allegations public when they knew he “had simply been following previously-established protocols and procedures” the city had been approving for years and they chose to use the alleged violations “as pretext to wrongfully terminate and discredit” him.
Vergne, who was 56 when he was fired, also claims he was terminated because of his age and that the city planned to replace him someone younger and less qualified.
Jon Edelbrock, 44, who joined the city in 1992, was recently promoted to Vergne’s former position.
Vergne’s lawsuit also states the city damaged his reputation and his ability to secure employment by falsely accusing him of conduct “tantamount to theft and taxpayer fraud.”
Claiming defamation, the lawsuit states the defendants entirely fabricated statements with no basis in fact and acted “oppressively, despicably, fraudulently, maliciously and with intent to vex, injure, harass and annoy” Vergne.
According to the civil conspiracy claim, Huth and council members “agreed to begin a faulty and fraudulent investigation … for the sole purpose of justifying” Vergne’s eventual termination, induced his cooperation under false pretenses, then publicized false statements accusing him of crimes.
Evidence collected during last year’s investigation was turned over to Sheriff’s Department for further review.
Law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office recently determined “there is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that crimes were committed,” so the case was closed.
“I can’t add anything to what has already been released by the DA office,” Mayor Dwight Worden stated in response to an email seeking comment from the city.
Vergne’s lawsuit also claims his firing was “extreme and outrageous,” causing him to suffer harm to his reputation, severe mental and emotional distress and a loss of benefits.