The City of Los Angeles will pay $3 million to a group of firefighters who said they were punished after blowing the whistle on shoddy building inspections.
The City Council on Tuesday agreed to the settlement in response to a lawsuit brought by the group of firefighters who alleged they faced retaliation after reporting misconduct in the Fire Prevention Bureau.
About half a dozen firefighters said in a 2017 lawsuit that untrained fire inspectors took part in rushed or incomplete building inspections as part of a Los Angeles Fire Department “Operation Catch-Up.”
The program followed a 2015 Times report on a backlog of overdue inspections.
The firefighters’ complaints were also depicted in a 2016 Times story in which they accused Fire Prevention Bureau officials of cutting corners by using poorly trained firefighters who were coaxed by supervisors to relax safety rules and overlook violations during inspections.
The result, the inspectors said, was that apartments, hospitals, studios, high rises and other buildings across Los Angeles had been improperly declared safe.
The firefighters said they faced harassment and discrimination from the city for speaking out about the shoddy work.
One said the fire department made a list of all attendees of a union meeting after a firefighter complained about the inspection process, the complaint states. Another firefighter said his position was cut after he reported unlawful billing practices in the unit that inspects high-rises. He was moved to a fire station and had his pay cut by $50,000.
A department investigation into the claims found “insufficient evidence to sustain any charges” that the department had cut corners during the inspection process.
The settlement is the second in a lawsuit involving the Fire Prevention Bureau in recent years.
Former Fire Marshal John Vidovich, who is mentioned in the lawsuit as running “Operation Catch-Up” and is accused by the firefighters of threatening them, sued the city in 2017. The city paid him $800,000 to settle his complaint, in which he alleged he was pushed out of his job by the LAFD union after exposing “illegal and fraudulent acts” by inspectors.
Vidovich testified he found fire inspectors falsifying and destroying records and demanding unnecessary overtime. An investigation sustained one of his allegations but not another.
[Los Angeles Times] – Dana Bartholomew