A judge ruled that a fraternal organization of Black firefighters will have to turn over some internal documents to a white firefighter who is suing the city, alleging he suffered a backlash in 2017 when he complained that a Black colleague who is a member of the group had harassed him by threatening to drop a bomb on him.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Monica Bachner issued her ruling Monday in firefighter James Sharlein’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, which alleges discrimination, harassment and retaliation, and that some of the alleged misconduct was racially motivated.
Also named as a defendant is the female firefighter, Ta’Ana Mitchell.
Last June, Sharlein’s attorneys requested from the Black firefighter group, the Stentorians, the minutes from the group’s meetings from 2010 to the present as well as the identities of members and officers of the organization during that same time period.
In her ruling, Bachner ordered the organization to turn over minutes from Stentorians meetings, each charter of the group, each article of incorporation and each mission statement, all from 2010 to the present. The group’s custodian of records also was ordered to appear for a deposition by Sharlein’s lawyers.
Sharlein’s requests in eight other areas were denied, including the identities of Stentorians members, officers and directors.
“The court finds (the) Stentorians raised meritorious objections to the remaining categories of production,” Bachner wrote, calling the requests “overbroad” and “irrelevant.”
In a sworn declaration, Stentorian’s President Gerald Durant said Sharlein’s case against the city has nothing to do with the group, and called the document requests “an attempt to infiltrate our organization with no legal basis to do so.”
The Stentorians is a charitable organization that is independent from LAFD, Durant says.
In their court papers, the Stentorians state that the organization was founded to “address the discrimination and segregation challenges in the LAFD” and that more than 500 men and women are members.
“The Stentorians have supported Ms. Mitchell as she is a member of an organization that seeks to promote equality and fairness throughout the fire service,” the group stated.
Sharlein worked at Fire Station 50 when 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 an LAFD 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.
In his own sworn declaration, Sharlein says he filed a report with the LAPD in June 2018 regarding Mitchell’s alleged behavior.
“I filed this criminal complaint because I believed that Mitchell had committed multiple criminal acts, including crimes regarding bomb threats, threatening to blow up a fire station, threatening to blow me up …,” Sharlein says
In a letter to then-LAFD Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas, a copy of which is included in his declaration, Sharlein says Mitchell was interviewed by a television news station and said she had been subjected to “systemic racism and sexism” within the LAFD.
“Why is she saying these things she knows are not true?” Sharlein asks. “Most importantly, why is she allowed to continue to harass and make false and misleading statements?”
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 denied him promotions to favored positions and transferred him to less favorable and “potentially more dangerous” work locations, the suit alleges.
Sharlein also alleges that he was denied chances to earn overtime pay, falsely accused of spreading gossip and rumors about another firefighter and subjected to improper investigations.
A “substantial motivating reason” for the city and LAFD to subject Sharlein to adverse employment conditions was his race and gender, the suit alleges.