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Former Los Angeles firefighter Tennie Pierce sits with his wife, Brenda, as they hear the decision by the City Council on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2006, in Los Angeles. The council voted Wednesday to overturn a $2.7 million settlement to Pierce, who claimed discrimination because he was fed dog food by white co-workers, but later was seen in photographs showing he had engaged in hazing incidents himself.
Pierce's attorney, Genie Harrison said she was ``disappointed that the City Council chose not to settle the case. ``In light of that decision, we expect the case to go to trial and we expect to put on a very powerful case,'' she told reporters. That’s what Councilman Wesson said he is afraid of. “I believe the city has already lost this case,” said Wesson. “When this case goes to trial, the jury will come back with an award significantly higher than $2.7 million. As much as it pains me to pay 2.7 million dollars for any settlement, in my opinion it is the fiscally responsible thing to do…”
Before the case goes to trial in March, the city has the choice to offer another settlement. However, Villaraigosa did not say whether he would encourage another, much lower settlement or if the city should go to trial. The city council had initially approved the settlement, which also provided him with a lifelong pension. They rescinded the decision after some photos of Pierce surfaced that showed him participating in hazing activity against other firefighters. Harrison told reporters the photos were taken more than a decade ago and are irrelevant to her client's case.
Councilman Bernard Parks said he is “extremely disappointed” by the vote although he expected it. “[It] sent a clear message to those in city departments fighting racism and sexism to stay quiet and keep your complaints to yourself,” he said in a statement. “To the optimists who believe that the Civil Rights Movement has come a long way, it is clear by this decision that we have not.”
Councilmembers Bill Rosendhal and Dennis Zine had been against the settlement terms from the beginning, calling the dog food incident more of a “bad prank” than racial discrimination. Villaraigosa said he agreed with them after he saw the photos and urged councilmembers to reconsider the settlement, stating that the money he asks for should be used responsibly in Los Angeles. But Parks, like Wesson believes the council’s decision has made things a lot worse. “It is my hope,” he said, “that those who visibly called for and voted for the veto will be equally visible if the city is required to pay more than what was originally agreed upon in the settlement.”