CALIFORNIA

L.A. will pay a white parks worker nearly $3.8 million in a racial bias lawsuit

Five years after a white city parks worker accused a former supervisor of disparaging his skin color, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a multimillion-dollar payout to satisfy a court judgment in the racial discrimination lawsuit.

The council voted unanimously Wednesday to pay former gardener James Duffy nearly $3.8 million plus accrued interest in a court judgment that found Duffy suffered years of harassment and retaliation while working for the Department of Recreation and Parks.

Duffy couldn't be reached for comment. His attorney, Carney Shegerian, said Duffy, now retired, is eager to put the case behind him.

"Our client went through an awful lot of harassment and retaliation.… No one should be treated like that, regardless of your color," Shegerian said. "We're real happy for Jim Duffy and I'm glad he's going to be able to put this behind him pretty soon."

A spokesman for the city attorney's office declined to comment.

Duffy filed a lawsuit against the city in 2011 alleging discrimination, harassment and retaliation based on his race and disability. A jury found in favor of Duffy in 2014. After the city appealed, a state appeals court affirmed the verdict.

According to a 2011 court complaint, race became an issue when Abel Perez became Duffy's foreman in 2002 or 2004. In one incident, according to the complaint, Perez told Duffy, "I hate white people."

There was an assortment of other mistreatment, according to the complaint: Perez gave Duffy bad assignments and would not assign anyone to help him, while Latino gardeners usually got two assistants. Perez promoted Latino employees but did not promote Duffy, the complaint said.

Duffy said that he was harassed after suffering an injury in an on-the-job accident when he slipped on wet concrete and "split his head open."

Since the accident, Duffy said, he has suffered from short-term memory loss.

The complaint describes incidents in which Duffy's supervisors tried to disorient him after the injury. For example, Duffy said he was told by supervisors that he had not been given assignments when he had and that he had failed to complete assignments that he had never received.

Duffy said he protested his treatment but no action was taken. In March 2010, Duffy retired.

He "believes and alleges that defendants constructively terminated his employment by forcing him to retire," the complaint said.

Perez could not be reached for comment. He is still employed as a senior park maintenance supervisor, said Rose Watson, a Recreation and Parks department spokeswoman. Because of employee confidentiality, the department would not comment on possible disciplinary action, Watson said.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News last year, Perez denied he harassed or discriminated against Duffy, saying any disciplinary actions were due to poor job performance.

"It's a shame the city lost its appeal," Perez said in the interview. "People who know me don't even believe this."

In other action, the council also approved a $2.4-million payment to settle a lawsuit brought by Jonathan Christian, who alleged he was shot by police without justification in 2014.

Los Angeles police officers discharged their firearms, "inflicting at least one gunshot wound to plaintiff's rectum," according to the complaint.

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In a report by the L.A. Board of Police Commissioners, the officer in question said he began firing after Christian lunged toward him during a drug bust.

But according to Christian's complaint, he was unarmed and made no aggressive movements when he was approached on a Jefferson Park street.

In 2014, the police board found the use of lethal force did not comply with policy.

"The shooting permanently changed Mr. Christian's life," said Christian's attorney, Brian Dunn. "And while we can't change what happened, we are hoping that the settlement and everything related to the departmental actions in this case will help everyone to move forward in a spirit of healing."

brittny.mejia@latimes.com

Twitter: @brittny_mejia

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 11, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Ex-gardener to get $3.8 million - The white L.A. city parks worker had alleged racial bias." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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