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NewsGovernmentFormer City Manager Steve McHarris files lawsuit against City of Milpitas

Former City Manager Steve McHarris files lawsuit against City of Milpitas

Former Milpitas City Manager Steve McHarris filed a lawsuit this past Tuesday against the City for breaching his employment contract and wrongful termination, among other complaints.

Back in May, McHarris filed a claim with the City, detailing his grievances and shedding light on his conflict with certain members of the City Council. Before that, in February, Council voted 3-2 in closed session not to extend McHarris’s contract come June, leaving city residents to speculate as to why he was being let go. 

On June 15, the City shot down McHarris’s claim, leading to his decision to file a lawsuit. 

According to the complaint, McHarris was a model employee who was terminated for defying interference on the part of current Mayor Carmen Montano and former Mayor Rich Tran. The lawsuit alleges that in November 2021 Tran and Montano interfered with McHarris’s job by urging him to reconsider the City’s employment of Economic Development Specialist staff member Eddie Truong, who was, according to Tran, a close friend of Councilmember Anthony Phan and whose employment therefore constituted nepotism. But City Councilmembers, including Mayors, are legally barred from being involved in personnel matters.

Says the complaint, McHarris “refused to participate in an activity that he knew, or reasonably believed, would result in a violation of state or federal statute, or a violation of or noncompliance with a local, state, or federal rule or regulation.”

McHarris’s case hinges in large part on his belief that he was pushed out of his job for not bending to councilmember pressure. 

As things began to mount, Tran began, according to the suit, a pattern of harassment of McHarris which culminated with McHarris’s ousting after Montano took office. 

The suit paints a picture of McHarris working to avoid undue Council interference while Tran developed an increasing distaste for him. Says the complaint, “McHarris stated he was tired of being harassed and threatened by Tran…”

The suit alleges that McHarris eventually became persona non grata to councilmembers, some of whom refused to cooperate with his leadership or take regular meetings with him. 

In late 2022, according to the lawsuit, Councilmember Hon Lien (who was then running for council) told McHarris that “Mayor Tran had offered her, and more than likely Carmen Montano, Gary Barbadillo, Hon Lien, Dipak Awasthi, and Juliette Gomez, his active campaign endorsement, which included his active social media platforms, and walking city precincts door to door, in exchange for the successful candidate’s commitment, if elected, to remove McHarris as their first order of business.”

The suit goes on to state, “Hon Lien told McHarris that Tran stated: ‘I ran my election three times. I always win. I did Evelyn Chua’s and she won. You must listen to me. You endorse Carmen and Garry and I will support you. First thing is to change the City Manager [McHarris]. He is not doing a good job.’”

When Lien did not meet Tran’s conditions, Tran demanded she remove his name from her campaign materials. 

When The Beat reached out to Tran, who is running for Milpitas Mayor in the 2024 election, about these accusations, his reply over email was: “I’ve been out of office for 12 months, leave me alone.”

The lawsuit was filed with the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara. Steve McHarris is seeking damages of $25,000 for legal fees. He has demanded a trial by jury.


Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is a writer and filmmaker. He has won awards for journalism (CA Journalism Award) and screenwriting (Fade In Award), and has served as a ghostwriter, speechwriter, or script doctor for over 3,000 clients. His first novel is a dark political thriller called "Red Dennis" (2020). His first nonfiction book is a guide for helping writers be more productive called "Ass Plus Seat" (2020). From 2020 to 2024, he co-hosted the "House of Mystery Radio Show" on NBC News Radio.


  1. When The Beat reached out to Tran, who is running for Milpitas Mayor in the 2024 election, about these accusations, his reply over email was: “I’ve been out of office for 12 months, leave me alone.” Pardon the pun, but that is rich. Like Trump, he may be out of office, but the reverberations of his actions continue.
    What candidate Hon Lien describes is a bribery transaction between outgoing Mayor Tran and now-Mayor Montano. Bribes are not restricted to money transactions, but can include anything of value in exchange for doing something as an official that is illegal or unjust.
    McHarris repeatedly asserted that former Mayor Rich Tran told City Council/Mayoral candidates that if they wanted him to endorse them in the 2022 election, they would need to remove Steve McHarris from his job as a first order of business if elected. McHarris claims that Mayor Montano and Councilmember Garry Barbadillo, who were both heavily endorsed by Tran during election season, were subject to this arrangement. It appears that all alleged parties to the bribery kept up their end of the deal.
    Find the complaint at https://meansfordemocracy.org/City-Manager-Steve-McHarris.pdf


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