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Fired employee sues city of Fargo for allegedly violating his rights

Aaron Cockfield, a former Fargo city sanitation worker, far right, speaks at an Oct. 30, 2017, hearing appealing his firing by the city. His attorney, Leo Wilking, is immediately next to him. Forum file photo

FARGO — A former sanitation worker fired for shoving a supervisor is now suing the city, claiming it violated his constitutional right to due process, according to court documents.

Aaron Cockfield, through his attorney, asked the court on Jan. 31 to order the city to reinstate him and provide back pay.

He was fired Aug. 22 and appealed twice to city officials, but they sided with his supervisors.

According to the city, Cockfield twice refused an order from Shawn Eckre, an acting supervisor, on July 28 and, when confronted, shoved Eckre hard enough that the man hit a wall 5 or 6 feet away.

But Cockfield said Eckre behaved aggressively and he shoved the man away in self-defense. Cockfield, who is African-American, also alleged Eckre called him "boy," a racist taunt.

Leo Wilking, the attorney who represented Cockfield at the appeals, argues in the lawsuit that the city violated Cockfield's due process by not telling him the evidence it had gathered against him and giving him a chance to rebut them. Cockfield and Wilkin only learned of this evidence Sept. 19 when Cockfield appealed his firing to the Civil Service Commission.

The commission voted 3-2 to uphold his firing.

The City Commission heard his appeal Oct. 30 but agreed with the Civil Service Commission. The city said in a news release later that the decision "reaffirms the City's zero tolerance for violence within the workplace."

Mayor Tim Mahoney said Cockfield's complaints were heard by two city commissions, but his firing ultimately came down to his own actions in the workplace.

"In the end, he backed a supervisor against the wall, and you just can't do that," he said.

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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