CNS—A retaliation claim can remain as part of a lawsuit filed by a Los Angeles firefighter who alleges he was fed dog food by his colleagues, a judge ruled June 4.
Tennie Pierce sued the city in November 2005, claiming his colleagues fed him the dog food as a prank at a Westchester fire station in 2004 and that nothing was done when he brought the hazing to the attention of superiors.
In February, Pierce’s attorney, Genie Harrison, added a claim of retaliation to the original allegations of racial harassment, and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The new claim alleged Pierce was retaliated against both during the time he was working at the firehouse and later when members of the LAFD hierarchy criticized a settlement reached in the case last year.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa vetoed the $2.7 million accord offered by the City Council in November after photos surfaced of Pierce participating in hazing activities.
Attorneys for the city argued in their court papers that criticisms of the settlement by LAFD members were not retaliation, but protected free speech.
But in Monday’s ruling, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark V. Mooney declined to dismiss the retaliation claim because Pierce’s attorneys had not yet filed a complaint with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing to have the post-settlement retaliation assertions heard.
In order for Pierce’s case go to trial, his lawyers must show the DFEH had a chance to review the case first in administrative hearings.
Although Pierce filed a previous DFEH claim, the arguments dealt only with the alleged retaliation at the firehouse, Mooney said.
Mooney said his ruling was not an indication of any probability of success for the retaliation claim at trial and that he did not believe Monday’s motion by the city was completely without merit.
Harrison praised the decision.
“I think it was clear the judge agreed with our position,” Harrison said.
However, Patricia A. Kinaga, an attorney for the city, said the retaliation claim is still subject to further attack after it is decided by the DFEH.
She said the city plans to eventually file a motion to dismiss the entire case, incorporating in part excerpts from a deposition the city took of Pierce on Saturday.
Pierce joined the department in 1987 and has been on unpaid leave since Dec, 28, 2005.The trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 24.