A white Los Angeles city firefighter who alleges in a lawsuit that he suffered a backlash and emotional distress in 2017 after complaining that a Black colleague threatened to bomb him has filed a second legal action against the city, maintaining he has been denied promotions and suffered a further backlash for speaking out.
Before, during and after engaging in the protected activities that were laid out in his first Los Angeles County Superior Court suit, firefighter James Sharlein “has been subjected to persistent, pervasive, and continuous harassment, discrimination and/or retaliation” by the LAFD, according to the new suit brought Tuesday.
A representative for the City Attorney’s Office told City News Service on Sunday that his office will review the new complaint, but that he had no further comment.
Sharlein’s first suit, filed in December 2018 and awaiting a Sept. 19 trial, alleges discrimination, harassment and retaliation, and that some of the alleged misconduct was racially motivated. Also named as a defendant is Black female firefighter Ta’Ana Mitchell.
Sharlein worked at Fire Station 50 when Mitchell was assigned there in December 2017 as a probationary firefighter, according to his first suit. 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 first complaint.
Mitchell told Black members of the LAFD command staff that the plaintiff was harassing her, an allegation she knew was untrue, the first suit says.
In a sworn declaration, Sharlein says he filed a report with the Los Angeles Police Department in June 2018 regarding Mitchell’s 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 first 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 first suit alleges.
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.
A “substantial motivating reason” for the city and LAFD to subject Sharlein to adverse employment conditions was his race and gender, the first suit alleges.
In his second suit, Sharlein says that since filing his first case he has been subjected to multiple adverse workplace transfers, denied chances for promotions and subjected to ostracism.
Meanwhile, the LAFD has never investigated Mitchell and/or taken any other proper remedial actions which properly addressed the threats and other false statements Mitchell allegedly admitted making at Fire Station 50, according to the new suit.
On Aug. 24, in connection with the first suit, Judge Monica Bachner is scheduled to hear the city’s motion to conduct an independent medical examination of Sharlein given that he alleges he still suffers from emotional distress due to the alleged discrimination and retaliation.
“Indeed, (Sharlein) admits that his emotional distress was so severe that he sought mental health treatment by a medical provider,” lawyers for the City Attorney’s Office state in their court papers. “Yet, (Sharlein) has not produced any medical records from this treatment and (his) provider responded to a subpoena in June representing he has no records of (Sharlein’s) treatment.”
In their court papers, Sharlein’s attorneys state that their client is not making a claim for emotional distress “over and above that usually associated with the injuries claimed, and no expert testimony regarding this usual mental and emotional distress will be presented at trial in support of the claim for damages.”