A judge has ruled that a white Los Angeles firefighter who says he suffered backlash and emotional distress after complaining that a Black colleague threatened to bomb him can take most of his case against the city to trial.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Monica Bachner heard arguments on Aug. 23 regarding the city’s motion to dismiss all or part of plaintiff James Sharlein’s suit, then took the case under submission and issued a 36-page ruling on Tuesday.
The judge found that there are triable issues in Sharlein’s causes of action for gender harassment, harassment based on race, failure to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent harassment, retaliation and whistleblower retaliation, but not his claims for race discrimination and violation of the Firefighter Bill of Rights.
Sharlein worked at Fire Station 50 when Black female firefighter Ta’Ana Mitchell was assigned there in December 2017 as a probationary firefighter, according to his suit filed in December 2018. That month, she allegedly began making inappropriate remarks about him, including, “I wanted to drop a bomb on Sharlein” and “If he was a girl, I would have beat his (epithet),” both of which allegedly were made in the presence of the plaintiff and a Los Angeles Fire Department supervisor.
Mitchell also said she wanted to sock Sharlein in the face and that her brother, who recently was released from jail, wanted to beat him up, according to the complaint.
Mitchell told Black members of the LAFD command staff that the plaintiff was harassing her, an allegation she knew was untrue, the suit says.
LAFD management knew or should have known of Mitchell’s alleged misconduct, but did not stop it even after Sharlein complained, according to the lawsuit.
Instead of helping Sharlein, LAFD management allegedly denied him promotions to favored positions and transferred him to less favorable and “potentially more dangerous” work locations.
Sharlein also maintains he was denied chances to earn overtime pay, falsely accused of spreading gossip and rumors about another firefighter and subjected to improper investigations.
Trial of Sharlein’s suit is scheduled Sept. 19.
In his second suit filed Aug. 9, Sharlein maintains he has been denied promotions and suffered a further backlash for speaking out. Sharlein further says that since filing his first case he has been subjected to multiple adverse workplace transfers, denied chances for promotions and subjected to ostracism.