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Six Black LAFD Employees Allege ‘Good Old White Boys Club’ Exists
By Bill Heatherman, City News Service
Published June 13, 2021

Firefighters work to save building during the L.A. Uprising (Courtesy of the Smithsonian Channel)

Six Black Los Angeles Fire Department employees who work within the Fire Prevention Bureau are suing the city, alleging the department is governed by a “good old white boys club” where the plaintiffs are targeted for criticism and denied fair and equal chances for promotions.

Arson investigators Leslie Wilkerson, Joseph Smith, Justin Davis, Robert McLoud, Sean Morris and Mario Newte brought the 89-page Los Angeles Superior Court complaint on Wednesday, alleging racial discrimination, hostile work environment and failure to prevent harassment, retaliation and discrimination. The plaintiffs seek unspecified damages. A representative for the City Attorney’s Office could not be immediately reached.
“The Fire Department, as an agency, is very good at putting out fires and rescue services,” the suit states. “But what is sorely lacking in this fire department is respect and fairness in dealings with minority employees, especially African-Americans.”

The LAFD “has a very hostile attitude toward and disdain of its Black workforce and regularly engages in adverse employment actions against them, including sham investigations, false allegations of workplace misconduct and failure to promote and investigate complaints of workplace mistreatment and discrimination and to consistently apply workplace policies and rules,” according to the suit, which further alleges the department is governed by a “good old white boys club” where Black employees are “abused, denigrated, ignored and disrespected.”

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The LAFD’s decision-makers tend to be white men who “hold very racist and bigoted attitudes and do not believe in diversity, equity or inclusion in the workplace,” the suit alleges. “Those minorities who don’t play their game are abused and mistreated in the workplace and their work lives are made miserable.”

‘The suit further alleges the LAFD “has a checkered history of racial harassment, intimidation and retaliation and has been the subject of many court actions that have exposed such bad behavior. Nevertheless, the culture of hatred and racism continues unabated and there have been no sincere reforms implemented to bring about an end to such racist hostility and racial abuse.”

Wilkerson has been exposed to a “repeated pattern and practice of racism and bigotry that permeates this agency through the highest levels in the supervisory hierarchy … from day one on the job,” the suit states. Management has wrongfully accused him many times of not doing his job and every

aspect of his work is questioned or criticized, making it hard for him to move through the ranks, the suit states.   “At every turn, he feels he is being denied training and promotional opportunities,” the suit states.

Plaintiff Smith alleges he and other Black LAFD men and women are given written criticisms for trivial, minor or falsified accusations that their white counterparts do not receive.

“His job performance is always questioned, he is held to different standards, he is criticized in his decisions, and he is falsely accused of misconduct or other violations of unspecified workplace policies,” the suit alleges.

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Plaintiff Newte never was the subject of criticism while assigned to a federal task force, but he faced a different environment within the LAFD, the suit states.

“The criticisms and attacks on his credibility, his integrity, his job performance and his entire being in this career have been by those Caucasian supervisors and managers at the city of Los Angeles and its fire department who are racist and intolerant bigots,” the suit states.

Morris applied for a senior arson investigator position last October, the suit states. Three white candidates were given preferential treatment by the command staff for the job and the selection process was postponed until those persons became eligible, according to the suit.

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