Funds overseer illegally fired in union leader probe, suit claims

The federal government filed a lawsuit Wednesday accusing officers who oversee benefit trust funds for Southern California cement workers of illegally ousting an employee because she cooperated with a criminal investigation of a local union leader.

In the civil complaint, the U.S. Labor Department seeks the reinstatement, with back pay and interest, of Cheryle Robbins, who was audit and collections director for the funds.

The government also petitioned the court to remove a number of board members for the trusts, including the head of Cement Masons Union Local 600, Scott Brain.

“Workers must be free to participate in Department of Labor inquiries without fear of retaliation,” Assistant Labor Secretary Phyllis C. Borzi said in a statement. “By law, they have a right to report suspected violations to the department and must be allowed to cooperate with investigators.”


Calls for comment to the Bell Gardens-based union and one of its attorneys Wednesday were not immediately returned.

Citing records that were turned over to Labor Department investigators, The Times reported last year that Brain supported efforts to place Robbins on leave in 2011 after she had complained about millions of dollars in missing employer contributions to the trusts. The funds pay for the masons’ healthcare, retirement and other benefits. Robbins was later discharged.

Brain has been under investigation over allegations that he allowed employers to skip their payments to the funds, spent dues money on an extramarital affair and retaliated against whistle-blowers, according to records and interviews. He has said he did nothing wrong.

The union, whose 1,700 members helped construct Disney Hall, Staples Center and other signature Southern California buildings, is a force in local and state politics as a regular donor to election campaigns.