CNS – A Los Angeles firefighter who sued the city, claiming colleagues fed him dog food as part of a racially-motivated prank, will be allowed to pursue a retaliation claim as part of his litigation, a judge has ruled.
Tennie Pierce sued the city in November 2005, claiming he was mistreated, and administrators did nothing to stop the hazing. He claims other firefighters at the Westchester fire station fed him dog food mixed in some spaghetti in 2004.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark V. Mooney rejected a demurrer—a motion contesting the legal sufficiency of a complaint—by the city seeking to dismiss Pierce’s allegation that he was retaliated against by supervisors for complaining.
Earlier this year, Mooney denied a motion to dismiss the retaliation claim.
Following the dog food incident, Pierce was told by a supervisor that he would be sent back to the Westchester fire station, an environment that was hostile and could jeopardize Pierce’s physical safety, said his attorney, Genie Harrison.
The judge agreed, noting that the “unique position of a firefighter” requires that firefighters be able to trust one another with their physical safety.
Attorneys for the city argued that Pierce, who was not in court Aug. 15, did not have enough evidence to show he was in danger, and that alleged incidents of shunning, teasing or embarrassment did not rise to the level of harassment.
“It is not enough to just state accusatory facts,” said attorney
Patricia A. Kinaga, arguing on behalf of the city. “It’s mere speculation.”
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa vetoed the $2.7 million settlement approved by the City Council in November, based in part on photos that surfaced showing Pierce participating in the hazing of a fellow firefighter.
In his lawsuit, Pierce accuses the city of racial harassment, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Another hearing in the case is set for Aug. 28, and trial is expected to begin next month.
Pierce, who joined the department in 1987, has been on unpaid leave since Dec. 28, 2005.