Arson Investigators Sue LA City Alleging Race Discrimination

Six Los Angeles City firefighters assigned to the arson division have filed suit alleging race discrimination. Leslie Wilkerson, Joseph Smith, Justin Davis, Robert McClud, Sean Morris, and Mario Newte filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court accusing the department’s leadership of fostering a “good old white boys club.”

The 89-page complaint identifies five Caucasian and two Hispanic officers by name contending each acted with “personal animus, ill will, hostility and hatred towards the African American plaintiffs and other African Americans in the workplace.” Despite identifying the seven officers, they are not named as defendants in the suit.

The firefighters claim their supervisors “encourage, create, maintain, sustain, incite, perpetuate, and continue a culture and climate of racial hostility and an environment fueled with racial harassment and racial discrimination, racial hatred, abuse, and mistreatment towards African Americans in this workplace.”

The complaint points to previous race discrimination suits, including one filed in 2017 by fire inspectors who were labeled “lazy” and “afraid” to fight fires. It also describes a disturbance in the arson office when a chief officer accused one of the plaintiffs of misconduct. That disturbance, referred to as a “blow up,” resulted in the response of LAPD allegedly due to the chief’s “shocking and abusive behavior.” It also became the basis for acts of retaliation against several of the plaintiffs.

The suit alleges race discrimination and retaliation under California state law. It identifies each of the plaintiffs as being over the age of 40, but makes no claims that they were discriminated against on account of their age. Since no federal claims were made, the case will likely remain in state court.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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