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Minority firefighters claim racial discrimination in lawsuit

LOS ANGELES – Members of a Los Angeles Fire Department unit are suing the city alleging that the department is essentially an “all-white boys club.”

The plaintiffs are six male members of the Fire Prevention Bureau. In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege they have been subjected to discrimination, harassment and retaliation because of their ethnicity. Five of the six plaintiffs — Jerome Boyd, Gary Carpenter, Andre Johnson, David Riles and Aaron Walker — are black. Glenn Martinez is Latino.

The complaint, which seeks unspecified damages, names Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas, former Fire Marshal John Vidovich and Assistant Fire Chief Kwame Cooper as defendants.

“I can confirm that our office is reviewing the lawsuit, but as a policy we do not comment on pending litigation,” Frank Mateljan, a spokesperson for the city attorney’s office, said in a written statement.

The plaintiffs allege in their court papers, that black and female firefighters within the Fire Prevention Bureau have been branded by others within the department as employees who join the bureau because they are “lazy and afraid” to fight fires.

The fire department’s internal racism is exemplified by the designation of several fire stations, including stations 66 (Southwest LA/Hyde Park), 33 (South Central) and 14 (Newton), as “black-free zones,” according to the lawsuit, which also alleges that black and female members of the Fire Prevention Bureau are often referred to as “slugs.”

The mistreatment of the plaintiffs intensified when they reported and disclosed “various acts of misconduct and activity” that they believed did not comply with local, state and federal regulations, according to the lawsuit.

The suit also alleges that Vidovich implemented an “Operation Catch-up” program in which he used untrained and inexperienced inspectors to perform duties after media reports that the fire department had thousands of overdue inspections.

The inspectors used by Vidovich completed “unreliable, flimsy fire inspection reports” that were ratified by him and approved by Fire Prevention Bureau members when they should have been rejected, the suit alleges.

Several of the plaintiffs refused to take part in shortcut inspections and advised their inspectors to not perform any rushed jobs, the complaint says.

Vidovich filed his own lawsuit against the city and United Firefighters of Los Angeles City on Jan. 9, alleging he was ousted as fire marshal in retaliation for his reporting of alleged illegal and fraudulent acts being committed by some members of the Fire Prevention Bureau.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not respond to a request for a comment.