City Council backs $3-million settlement for firefighters who alleged retaliation
The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday agreed to pay up to $3 million to settle a lawsuit brought by a group of firefighters who alleged that they faced retaliation after reporting misconduct in the Fire Prevention Bureau.
The council voted 11 to 0 for the settlement payout. Councilmen Joe Buscaino, Mike Bonin, John Lee and Kevin de León were absent.
In their 2017 lawsuit, about half a dozen firefighters said untrained fire inspectors took part in rushed or incomplete building inspections. These were part of the Los Angeles Fire Department’s “Operation Catch-Up” program, launched following a 2015 Times report on the backlog of overdue inspections.
The firefighters’ complaints were also outlined in a 2016 Times article in which they accused Fire Prevention Bureau officials of cutting corners by using poorly trained firefighters who were coaxed by supervisors to relax safety rules and overlook violations while conducting inspections.
The firefighters said they faced harassment and discrimination from the city for speaking out. One said the LAFD made a list of all attendees of a union meeting after a firefighter complained about the inspection process, the complaint states.
LAFD chief deputy allegedly drunk during a major fire gets no discipline, $1.4-million payout
An outside investigation found that Chief Deputy Fred Mathis was likely intoxicated but cleared him through a rationale that has outraged department insiders.
Another firefighter said his position was eliminated after he reported unlawful billing practices in the unit that inspects high-rises. He moved to a fire station and was forced to take a $50,000 cut in his salary, the complaint alleged.
An LAFD investigation into the claims found “insufficient evidence to sustain any charges” that the department had cut corners during the inspection process, a spokesperson told The Times in 2019.
Matthew McNicholas, the attorney representing the firefighters, said he is pleased the case is resolved.
“I’m happy that my clients can put this behind them, and I’m happy that the department can put this behind it, and everyone can get back to focusing on rendering service to the city,” McNicholas said.
The settlement backed by the council is the second in a lawsuit involving the Fire Prevention Bureau in recent years. Former Fire Marshal John Vidovich, who is mentioned in the lawsuit as running “Operation Catch-Up” and is accused by the firefighters of threatening them, sued the city in 2017. The city paid $800,000 to settle Vidovich’s lawsuit, in which he alleged he was pushed out of his job by the LAFD union after exposing “illegal and fraudulent acts” by inspectors in his bureau.
Vidovich testified in his deposition that he found fire inspectors falsifying and destroying records and demanding unnecessary overtime. An investigation later sustained one of his allegations but not another, an LAFD spokeswoman said.
The city attorney’s office declined to comment on Tuesday’s action by the City Council.
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