A veteran Los Angeles firefighter can take to trial his lawsuit against the city that alleges he suffered a backlash after reporting that Los Angeles Fire Department personnel and members of the dive team were wrongfully destroying and discarding property bought with federal funds, as well as falsifying records, a judge ruled Friday.
Stephen Meiche’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, filed in June 2016, alleges harassment, discrimination and retaliation. The 57-year-old firefighter/diver also maintains he was treated differently because of his age.
Judge Rafael Ongkeko ruled there were triable issues and he denied a motion by the City Attorney’s Office to dismiss the case.
According to the complaint, Meiche joined the LAFD in 1980 and later became a certified diver. He was assigned to Station 49, the suit states.
In March 2014, Meiche began complaining that some LAFD property purchased with Urban Areas Security Initiative funds, including diving dry suits, were being destroyed in violation of the grant money’s rules and that records were “likely falsified” to cover up the destruction, the suit alleges.
In addition, Meiche said some LAFD members were “abusing grant funds by falsifying hours worked on training,” the suit states.
Meiche also reported that some “officer-level personnel engaged in dives at a depth beyond their certification,” jeopardizing the plaintiff’s instructor certification and exposing him to potential liability, the suit states.
Some LAFD members plagiarized or used copyrighted material to write training manuals while representing the writings as their own, the suit alleges.
In retaliation, Meiche was marginalized and pushed out of the dive unit, denied overtime, ostracized, harassed, and saw his “life on the job (made) so difficult that he simply goes away and retires,” the suit alleges.
The department refused to investigate Meiche’s allegations, the suit states.
“It is only after the statute of limitations expired with no word from the department that (Meiche) finally realized defendants … had simply swept it all under the rug and were going to do nothing about it …,” the suit states.
In early 2014, an LAFD captain and another firefighter/diver joined others in saying the plaintiff’s age was “coming in the way of his ability to perform and contribute to the dive program at LAFD,” the suit states.
Meiche complained to a battalion chief, but no action was taken and last October his status as a “mate” was withdrawn, preventing him from getting overtime days for which he was entitled, the suit alleges.
The LAFD has denied that there was any retaliation against Meiche.