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Court dismisses two more claims in former lifeguard Pat Vergne’s lawsuit

DEL MAR — An additional two claims were dismissed from a lawsuit against the city, filed by former longtime Community Services Director and Chief Lifeguard Pat Vergne, who was fired last summer.

Vergne, who was terminated from his post on Aug. 23, 2017, due to alleged workplace misconduct and misuse of public funds, filed a lawsuit against the city for at least $5 million in late January, bringing claims of defamation, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy and wrongful termination against all five City Council members and City Manager Scott Huth.

Vergne and another former employee were accused of 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 — amassing a cost of about $200,000 to the city. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department closed its criminal investigation of Vergne in February, due to a lack of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt that crimes were committed.”

Former lifeguard chief Pat Vergne, seen here at a Power to the Tower fundraiser with former City Councilwoman Lee Haydu, left, and former County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

His lawsuit has been narrowed down to two claims. In an Aug. 31 hearing, the San Diego Superior Court dismissed Vergne’s claims of fraud and conspiracy. Claims of defamation and wrongful termination in violation of public policy were dismissed in August.

The city is seeking a payment of almost $10,000 in attorney’s fee from Vergne, as a result of the previously dismissed claims, said City Attorney Leslie Devaney at the Sept. 4 Del Mar City Council meeting.

The lawsuit now rests on claims that “the city and council members harassed Vergne because of his age,” as well as a retaliation claim, Devaney said.

The retaliation claim is primarily directed against Scott Huth, according to Jeffery Morris, an assistant city attorney monitoring and assisting Special Counsel in the case. The lawsuit alleges that Huth “continually harassed and exposed (Vergne) to a hostile work environment” prior to Vergne’s termination.

According to Devaney, an independent investigation determined that the retaliation claim had no merit.

Devaney said the reduction of claims is “not surprising.”

“We don’t think they can prove anything,” Devaney said. “The city expects to win this lawsuit.”

A status conference for the case is set for December, and the trial is estimated to occur in late summer or early fall of 2019, though a date has not been set.

Vergne’s attorney preferred not to comment at this time, and Vergne could not be reached for comment.

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