OAKLAND -- The Oakland City Council has approved a $400,000 settlement with the city's former affirmative action manager who lost his job after becoming embroiled in a dispute over minority hiring.

Don Jeffries accused council members of singling him out for a layoff in 2008 after he had battled with them and the City Attorney's Office over a city law that gave bilingual people an advantage when competing for jobs that involved significant interaction with the public.

The law was passed more than a decade ago to provide better public service for the city's growing number of non-English speaking residents. But Jeffries, who is African-American, questioned its legality. He warned that it could function as an illegal hiring mechanism that violated the rights of job applicants who did not speak a second language.

The dispute boiled over at a 2007 City Council committee meeting during which then-City Attorney John Russo blasted a report prepared by Jeffries urging changes to the law. And former Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, according to court papers, accused then-City Administrator Deborah Edgerly of stalling implementation of the law to "protect city jobs for 'blacks.'"

De La Fuente said Jeffries' layoff the following year was simple math as the city faced a $40 million budget deficit. "He had no case," De La Fuente said. "It's a crime to give a guy like this $400,000. These council members have no backbone whatsoever."

Oakland had already spent $382,735 fighting Jeffries' lawsuit before agreeing to the settlement on Tuesday.

"It was a business decision," Councilwoman Pat Kernighan said of settling with Jeffries. "The cost of going to trial was going to be substantial."

Court papers show that Jeffries had filed claims against several prior employers before coming to work in Oakland in 2005.

Jeffries' attorney, Stephanie Rubinoff, said he was pleased to resolve the case. "We obviously believed that the action had merit or we would not have brought it."

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435