Costly payout for LAFD

first_imgAsked whether the city had attempted to settle, he said, “We engaged in settlement discussions prior to trial, but the parties were too far apart.” The award is less than the $2.7 million payout recommended by the City Attorney’s Office for former Firefighter Tennie Pierce, an African-American who filed a discrimination suit after dog food was slipped into his dinner in what colleagues said was a prank. The City Council approved the settlement, which sparked public outrage and focused attention on horseplay and practical jokes in the 3,500-member department. The settlement was later vetoed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and the case now could head to trial. Kitson’s co-counsel, Genie Harrison, represents Pierce and several other Los Angeles firefighters with discrimination cases against the city. The steady drumbeat of scandals, preceded by a scathing audit from City Controller Laura Chick that found inconsistent discipline, discrimination and a desire by some to downplay offenses, prompted LAFD Chief William Bamattre to retire Jan. 1. Interim Chief Douglas Barry has vowed to clean house. “This verdict underscores what my audit of the Fire Department found last year,” Chick said in a statement. “It is my hope that with new leadership in the city and the department, we are truly moving forward to end the culture of discrimination, harassment and hazing.” Among the allegations, Bressler said he was treated “like a rookie” and berated and yelled at, according to a court filing. He also alleged Battalion Chief Roderick Garcia threatened him in 2004 with “one year of misery” if he pursued his harassment complaints. When higher-ups began asking about rumors of problems at the station, Garcia told them the captains there – the very people being accused – would conduct their own investigation, according to court documents. LAFD spokesman Antoine McKnight declined to comment on the jury award, but said, “Our focus is to continue to make sure we treat all our employees with our core values, and with dignity and respect, and to ensure a workplace that’s free and clear of any type of discrimination or harassment.” Kitson said the jury clearly held the city and the LAFD responsible. [email protected] (818) 546-3304160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Bressler also said in the 2005 lawsuit that he was discriminated against because of his age and because he is a Jehovah’s Witness. A third plaintiff, Capt. Gary Mellinger, who also alleged age discrimination, settled with the city for $350,000 last year. Bressler’s attorney, Robert Kitson, said his client was “very gratified” when the jury delivered the verdict to end the two-week trial. “He gave 26 years to the Los Angeles Fire Department, and the campaign of unlawful actions that ended up forcing him out is egregious,” Kitson said. “When he brought them an important message how a subordinate was being treated, they decided it was a message they didn’t want to hear and got rid of the messenger.” Nick Velasquez, spokesman for City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, said his office was disappointed in the verdict. “We’re reviewing the trial records and are considering our options,” he said. In yet another black eye for the city Fire Department, a veteran Los Angeles firefighter who said he was forced to retire for blowing the whistle on harassment of a colleague won a $1.73 million jury award Friday in a retaliation and age-discrimination case against the department. The verdict for Lewis Steven Bressler comes as the embattled Los Angeles Fire Department confronts a series of lawsuits and complaints that allege the department hasn’t done enough to stamp out unprofessional – and sometimes offensive – behavior. Bressler, 68, said he was given poor reviews by his superiors and placed in a hostile work environment at Fire Station 96 in Chatsworth in retaliation for reporting mistreatment of Firefighter Brenda Lee. An African-American lesbian, Lee said she was harassed by her superiors – who put her through grueling drills without proper safety precautions and made derogatory comments – because of her race and sexual orientation. She has a pending discrimination case against the city. last_img read more