Lewiston Police Chief Jason Kuzik has sent a letter to the city of Caldwell alleging age discrimination and seeking damages for being denied the city’s police chief position last year.
A letter dated Feb. 2 and sent to Caldwell city attorney Mark Hilty argues that the city discriminated against Kuzik because of his age. It asked the city for a resolution by Feb. 15 before a discrimination charge is filed with the Idaho Human Rights Commission. The letter was sent by Kuzik’s attorney Chad Johnson of Strindberg Scholnick Birch Hallam Harstad Thorne in Boise and was obtained through a public records request by the Lewiston Tribune.
The Tribune left a message with the Caldwell city attorney’s office, which wasn’t returned. Caldwell spokesperson Char Jackson told the Idaho Press the city can’t comment on pending litigation.
According to a response from the city of Caldwell, the only document related to the matter is the letter, which was described as an “active tort claim.”
Johnson said the letter is not a claim or a notice of a claim, but a private communication with an offer to resolve the issue. He said that currently the matter hasn’t been resolved nor has a lawsuit been filed. While the issue remains pending, Johnson said Kuzik is open to finding a resolution.
“Mr. Kuzik is thankful he was able to find a position in Lewiston and he remains 100% committed to Lewiston for the long haul,” Johnson said.
The letter alleges the Caldwell City Council didn’t appoint Kuzik because he was close to retirement despite saying that he intended to serve as police chief for 7-10 years. Kuzik was 52 years old when he applied for the job.
The document cites the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Idaho Human Rights Act that prohibits age discrimination for people aged 40 and older.
The letter also states that Kuzik had to accept a lower-paying job because of the discrimination and “has already lost wages and benefits in the amount of $65,037,” which will grow at the rate of $41,496 per year. The document says that “to show he is willing to be reasonable regarding this matter,” an offer of settlement for $272,515 was requested, which the letter states is less than the total damages he suffered.
According to previous reporting by the Tribune, Kuzik’s starting salary was $122,800.26. The current Caldwell police chief earns $154,000 per year, according to the city of Caldwell.
“Despite the discriminatory refusal to hire Mr. Kuzik and the harm that was done to his reputation, Mr. Kuzik quickly set his sights on alternative employment,” the document said. “Mr. Kuzik successfully obtained another Chief of Police position but was left with no choice but to accept much lower pay.”
In March 2022, the city of Caldwell posted a job announcement seeking a new chief for its police department with job requirements including a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement or related field as well as other management, leadership and communication skills. The document states that Kuzik met the educational and experience requirements in the job posting, and had nearly 25 years of law enforcement experience.
In April 2022, the city conducted interviews before a 10-person panel and Kuzik was one of three finalists for the position. The document states that Kuzik was the only candidate who reached out to those in the community, like the fire department, to make sure he was a good fit for the city. He also requested a ride-along with Caldwell police officers.
Based on his interview and actions, Caldwell police Sgt. Myron Kershaw wrote a review recommending Kuzik for the job, as well as a letter of recommendation to the hiring committee. Caldwell Mayor Jarom Wagoner later met with Kuzik’s police chief and officers during a background check at Kuzik’s department in Henderson, Nevada, according to the letter.
In May 2022, Wagoner announced internally to the city council that Kuzik was his pick for police chief and sent him an employment offer upon approval by the council. Another interview was done with Kuzik and the city prepared a news release May 19 announcing that Wagoner chose Kuzik for police chief, and it was distributed the next day, according to the letter.
At its May 25 meeting, the council was set to approve Wagoner’s appointment of Kuzik. However, councilor Chuck Stadick stated that while he didn’t have problems with Kuzik’s qualifications, he was concerned that Kuzik was too close to retirement and if he retired they would have to search for a new chief again. Stadick then argued for Rex Ingram for the position because he was younger than Kuzik at 37 and had a higher score during the selection process. Another councilor, Diana Register, agreed with Stadick, according to the letter.
“I know you’re getting close to retirement. If you decide to retire in four to five years, then what are we going to do for a new police chief?” Stadick said to Kuzik during the city council meeting in May. “And that concerned me, the longevity.”
Wagoner stated that Kuzik was committed to staying in the position long term and he shouldn’t be faulted for his age. Wagoner’s appointment of Kuzik failed on a 4-2 vote. Ingram was appointed police chief on July 1, 2022.
During the meeting, Stadick also pointed out that the Caldwell Police Department remained under FBI investigation. The investigation stemmed from alleged sexual relations and misconduct in the department’s street crimes unit.
Stadick questioned how a good decision could be made in the appointment process as the department worked through these issues. He also said that he was unsure if Kuzik was the proper candidate to lead Caldwell police out of the woods.
“To me, we have a systemic problem here and I understood that from our conversations, lengthy conversations and some emails, that you haven’t had that kind of experience,” Stadick said, speaking to Kuzik. “And that concerned me.”
The document, however, says that Kuzik wasn’t hired because of his age.
“Mr. Kuzik was absolutely qualified for the Chief of Police position, and the mayor recommended his appointment on that basis, the City Council declined to appoint Mr. Kuzik because he was too old in their eyes, and they feared that he would retire in approximately five years,” the document said.
The Lewiston police chief position was offered to Kuzik in July. He accepted the job offer Sept. 1 and began in the role Oct. 3. According to previous reporting in the Tribune, he visited the area and went on a ride-along with a patrol officer before accepting the job. In July, Lewiston’s Fraternal Order of Police Union endorsed Kuzik and Mayor Dan Johnson also visited Kuzik’s department in Nevada and did a background check.