West Hollywood City Council aide sues city, alleging retaliation
An aide to West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran has sued the city and his boss, alleging his boss sexually harassed him and that he was wrongfully punished for being a “whistleblower.”
In a 69-page civil suit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Ian Owens said the city retaliated against him after he reported alleged misconduct by another city council deputy.
“West Hollywood’s City Hall has recently come under fire publicly for juvenile conduct on the part of various officials that would be expected of a high school or reality show – not the government of a sophisticated municipality,” the lawsuit states, decrying a “malignantly immature environment” in the city government.
Owens seeks unspecified damages, and his lawsuit requests a jury trial.
West Hollywood officials are still reviewing the lawsuit, and the city “has no comment on it at this time, other than to note that the city prides itself on providing a workplace free from harassment and discrimination,” according to a city statement provided to The Times on Thursday.
Duran denied the allegations.
“Mr. Owens never accused me of sexual harassment until he was caught and walked out of City Hall for his wrongdoing,” he said in an email. “The City has hired an independent investigator and I know my name will be cleared. This sexual harassment claim against me is meant to deflect attention away from his own misconduct at City Hall.”
Owens’ attorney, Eliot J. Rushovich, declined to comment.
Owens was suspended, with pay, from his job in January amid accusations that he bugged the City Hall office of Fran Solomon, the deputy to former Councilman John Heilman. Owens suspected that Solomon was soliciting campaign contributions for her boss, who was running for reelection, on city time. Owens emailed snippets from her office telephone conversations to numerous email accounts in the city, including those of reporters.
Owens returned to his position in March.
In the lawsuit, Owens said he told Duran and City Manager Paul Arevalo about his suspicions regarding Solomon, who no longer works at City Hall because her boss was not reelected. Owens only “went public with his allegations in the press” because he was “frustrated by the lack of response” from his supervisors, court documents say.
The city “abruptly and unlawfully retaliated” against him by suspending him, according to the lawsuit, which says the city “targeted Owens alone” and did not suspend Solomon while conducting an investigation.
Owens said Duran ignored the claims about Solomon because he was angry that Owens had spurned his sexual advances.
According to the lawsuit, Duran and Owens met in April 2012 via Grindr, a smartphone dating app for gay and bisexual men. The men had a sexual encounter the first night they met in person, and Duran offered Owens the council deputy position three months later, the suit states.
In the lawsuit, Owens says Duran made sexual advances or sexually suggestive comments toward him “well over 100 times,” and “on average, about once or twice a week.”
“Even in light of the tolerant attitudes of the city’s residents and their elected officials, the city’s response to the alleged ‘male on male’ sexual harassment here has been inappropriately and dishearteningly dismissive and combative,” the lawsuit states. “Thus, this case presents an important cautionary tale regarding the toxic effects of thousands of years of deeply rooted societal biases and prejudices that work to the detriment of gay men.”
Duran has acknowledged that he and Owens were sexually intimate and that they met through Grindr. He said they became friends and that he hired Owens because he was well-qualified for the job, having a degree in finance and experience in hotel development and real estate.
“People are trying to make him sound like he was unqualified and got the job based on a one-time incident,” Duran told The Times in March. “It’s just not true and not fair to him.”
After Owens resumed his position as Duran’s deputy, Duran publicly defended him.
“You can take all the punches and swings you want at me…Please leave Ian alone,” Duran said at a city council meeting.
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