Lawsuit Sweepstakes at LAFD – The Lawyer’s Edition

The LA Times is criticizing the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles City Fire Department over what it characterizes as a new round of discrimination suits filed by attorneys who were supposed to be responsible for correcting the problems that led to a previous round of firefighter discrimination suits that date back to 2004.

In an article published Sunday, LA Times reporter David Zahniser questions lawsuits filed by four city attorneys, Independent Assessor Stephen Miller, Assistant City Attorney Vivienne Swanigan, Senior Assistant City Attorney Zna Houston, Deputy City Attorney Janet Jackson.

Miller was hired in 2009 to fill a newly created internal auditor position in the city’s fire department. The position was intended to serve as an “internal watch-dog” following the infamous “dog-food” prank case of black firefighter Tennie Pierce ($1.5 million payout). The dog-food prank led to a second suit brought by two white captains who were wrongly disciplined for the prank ($2.5 million payout), and was followed by a series of less-high profile discrimination and reverse discrimination cases that similarly resulted in numerous 6 and 7 figure payouts prompting headlines that read: “Lawsuit Sweepstakes At LAFD”.

During the course of his rocky tenure Miller battled to get access to personnel records that the city refused to provide. At one point Miller went so far as to file disciplinary complaints with the state bar against city attorneys including Houston and Jackson.

Swanigan, Houston and Jackson, all of whom are black females, claim that Miller (white male) has engaged in racial and gender discrimination against them. According to the article, Swanigan was “quietly” paid $100,000 to settle her claims. The cases involving Houston and Jackson are still underway.

Miller, who was dismissed in 2013, filed suit against the city claiming the three women used race as a “weapon” to retaliate against him for his efforts to obtain access to those personnel records.

The article is a good read – and concludes with a poignant comment from a former LA mayoral candidate Walter Moore:

“You can’t fix a broken system by having more layers [of government]. You’ve just got to have better people.”

Amen to that.

Here is the link to the LA Times article.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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