LOS ANGELES – A California appellate court on Thursday reversed a $6.2 million verdict against the city of Los Angeles in a discrimination lawsuit filed by a black lesbian firefighter.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal issued its decision in the case brought by Brenda Lee of Mission Hills, who sued the city alleging the fire department discriminated against her based on her race, gender and sexual orientation and refused to transfer her after she complained of harassment.
Lee claimed her superiors yelled and made derogatory comments about her and put her through grueling drills without proper safety precautions. She also claimed someone put urine in her mouthwash.
The 2007 jury payout was the largest in a string of settlements in cases that alleged discrimination and retaliation against women and minorities within the Los Angeles Fire Department. The cases have cost taxpayers more than $15 million since 2005.
An investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded that the city fire department engaged in a pattern of discrimination, harassment and retaliation against black and female firefighters. There was sufficient evidence to show the department violated federal civil rights laws in Lee's case, the commission said in an October 2007 letter to the department.
The appeals court found that Lee failed to pursue all administrative remedies following her termination in 2005. Lee claimed she was placed on unpaid leave in May 2005 "under the pretext that she was psychologically unfit to be a firefighter."
The city also argued in its appeal that some evidence didn't support the conclusion that Lee's termination was discriminatory, and some evidence supporting the city's case was excluded.
Allegations of racial and sexual discrimination at the 3,900-member department contributed to the early retirement of Fire Chief William Bamattre, who was blamed for failing to root out hazing and harassment during a decade on the job.