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57-year-old former Atwater police officer says he was fired because of his age

Former Atwater CA cop says city guilty of age discrimination

A 57-year-old Modesto man, Thomas Niederreuther, is suing the city of Atwater claiming he’s being kept from a patrol officer job because of his age. He was fired back in 2015 in his probationary first year.
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A 57-year-old Modesto man, Thomas Niederreuther, is suing the city of Atwater claiming he’s being kept from a patrol officer job because of his age. He was fired back in 2015 in his probationary first year.

A 57-year-old Modesto man and former police officer is suing the city of Atwater claiming he’s being kept from a patrol officer job because of his age.

Thomas Niederreuther was hired as an officer in Atwater in 2015 but was ultimately let go during his probationary first year. He sued the city back then and was given a $60,000 settlement, according to his lawsuit.

The former officer claims a superior officer routinely mocked him because of his age and would ask questions like “How old are you?” and “Why do you even want this job at your age?”

The superior officer would also pretend to guess his age and purposely guess high, according to the lawsuit.

A clause in the settlement said Niederreuther must agree to never again seek employment with the city. But, Niederreuther’s lawsuit claims, former City Manager Art de Werk promised to allow Niederreuther to apply to the police force if he agreed to repay the money from his settlement.

The settlement was signed by former City Manager Frank Pietro. Interim Atwater City Attorney Jose Sanchez declined to comment on the litigation on Monday.

The lawsuit also describes de Werk as a friend of Niederreuther, who is the vice president of C.W. Brower Inc. in Modesto, according to his application. That company supplies products to convenience stores.

The relationship between de Werk and Niederreuther has been a source of controversy in the past. Questions about their friendship arose before de Werk was hired in Atwater.

The description of a friendship between the two men appears to contradict de Werk’s account in 2017 of their relationship when de Werk said he knew Niederreuther through their time in Ceres but said that “shouldn’t suggest that we interact socially a lot.”

De Werk worked in Atwater for just three months before filing a hostile work environment claim. He dropped the claim after reaching a settlement of his own with the city.

De Werk signed the agreement to allow Niederreuther to apply on March 28, 2018, six days before he resigned from the city manager position, according to the lawsuit.

Attempts to reach de Werk on Monday were unsuccessful.

After Pietro retired at the end of 2016, the city of Atwater burned through five city managers. The hiring of de Werk was controversial and he continued to court controversy by putting Police Chief Samuel Joseph on leave in his first week on the job.

Joseph has since been fired and filed a wrongful termination lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed in Fresno County federal court asks for compensation and for the court to compel Atwater to at least give Niederreuther an opportunity to apply for an officer job.

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Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined the Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.
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