LAFD Settles EEOC Harassment Case for Nearly $500,000

Filed under: Behavioral Training,Legal,News,Sexual Harassment |

A Los Angeles firefighter was tormented by sexual and religious harassment at work and disciplined in retaliation for participating in another firefighter’s discrimination proceeding.

Anthony Almeida was abused by a Catholic priest as a child. He was the target of abuse again as an adult from what should have been an unlikely source: his co-workers, firefighters for the Los Angeles City Fire Department.

The Los Angeles City Fire Department’s shabby treatment of Almeida will cost $494,150 in damages. It will also mandate widespread anti-harassment training to settle federal charges of discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency announced 31 January, 2012.

Almeida, a Los Angeles firefighter/engineer since 1986, filed an EEOC discrimination charge in 2007, alleging that he was continually harassed by fellow firefighters at his station. Almeida alleged his coworkers used offensive comments of a sexual and religious nature.

When Almeida complained to his superiors about the harassment, they not only failed to address the issue, they retaliated against him, a federal investigation found.

An EEOC investigation uncovered that the harassment, which began in late 2006, was linked to Almeida’s lawsuit filed against the Catholic Church by Almeida regarding a priest who sexually abused him.

One of his coworkers learned that Almeida had filed a lawsuit against the Catholic church over the abuse. Several coworkers mocked him for that, using explicit and offensive religious and sexual epithets.

Almeida complained about the harassment to fire department management, but the EEOC investigation found that the LAFD failed to halt or address it. Further, the investigation found that Almeida had suffered retaliatory discipline for his participation in another EEOC investigation.

The EEOC determined that the LAFD had violated the law, the department entered into a three-year conciliation agreement with the EEOC and Almeida. The agreement settles the case administratively, avoiding litigation.

Aside from the cash payment, the fire department agrees to provide widespread live anti-harassment training to all fire station chiefs and their subordinate staff, affecting every fire station in the city of Los Angeles.

Olophius Perry, (r)  EEOC Los Angeles district director

Olophius Perry, (r) EEOC Los Angeles district director

LAFD also agreed to continue enforcing its policies against discrimination, harassment and retaliation; to offer an external equal employment opportunity complaint procedure; to post a notice on the matter; to report future instances of harassment to the EEOC; and, to publicize the settlement via press release.

“We are pleased that the Los Angeles City Fire Department is demonstrating its commitment toward creating a workplace free of harassment and retaliation,” said Olophius Perry, the EEOC’s Los Angeles district director, in a statement. “By working with the EEOC this way, the Department is sending a message that no further civil rights abuses will be tolerated — a key responsibility of all employers.”

According to a 1 Feb., 2012, posting on the LAFD’s blog:
“A situation of significant concern took place within the Los Angeles Fire Department that violated the Department’s zero tolerance for harassment.

The City of Los Angeles and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently reached a settlement agreement regarding a claim of harassment and retaliation brought forth by an active member of the Los Angeles Fire Department. Our agency is committed to providing and maintaining a work place free of harassment for all of our employees and is equally committed to ensuring that every employment policy and practice is administered in a manner which does not violate employees’ or the public’s rights under the law.”

The case is notable not only for the monetary settlement, but because it involves firefighters, who are entrusted with public safety and held in high regard, and one of the nation’s largest fire departments.

According to its website, the Los Angeles City Fire Department employs more than 3,500 uniformed firefighters and other personnel. It has 103 fire stations across a 470 square-mile jurisdiction, protecting approximately four million people within the Los Angeles city limits.

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