$3M Judgment Secured Against City of Los Angeles for Six Firefighters Who Blew the Whistle on Unsafe LAFD Practices

As profiled by Los Angeles Times, McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP obtained judgments from the City of Los Angeles on behalf of six firefighters who were retaliated against after blowing the whistle on LAFD’s dangerous and unlawful building inspections related to former Fire Marshal John Vidovich’s “Operation Catch-Up” program. Under “Operation Catch-Up,” firefighters were forced to take part in rushed or incomplete building inspections and were told to overlook violations while conducting inspections. As a result of speaking out about the misconduct, the firefighters faced harassment and discrimination from the city.

In an interview with Los Angeles Times, Matthew McNicholas, lead attorney for the firefighters, said: “I’m happy that my clients can put this behind them, and I’m happy that the department can put this behind it, and everyone can get back to focusing on rendering service to the city.”

Read more about the lawsuit below:

Trial law firm McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP obtained a $3 million settlement from the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) on behalf of six firefighter/inspectors who alleged various acts of retaliation after they disclosed what they believed to be legal violations and safety concerns in the LAFD Fire Prevention Bureau’s public building inspections. These inspections were part of former Fire Marshal John Vidovich’s “Operation Catch-Up” program which was implemented when it was revealed in a June 2015 Los Angeles Times article that the LAFD had thousands of overdue inspections. As a direct result of engaging in this protected activity, the firefighters were subjected to demotions, unwanted transfers, fabricated charges of theft and fraud, unwarranted internal investigations, and other adverse employment actions.

“These six firefighters were doing their duty by reporting what they believed to be egregious misconduct with incomplete and inaccurate fire inspection reports, all ‘signed-off’ by individuals at The Los Angeles Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Bureau,” said Matthew McNicholas, Partner at McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP and Panel Counsel to the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City. “The wrongful retaliatory actions we alleged toward these firefighters, who dedicated their lives to protecting the community, was not only damaging to them, but to the thousands and thousands of people who worked in the buildings the plaintiffs believed were improperly and unsafely inspected.”

Ask yourself, would you want to work in a building that actually did not pass a fire safety inspection?  We see in the tragedy in Florida what happens when safety inspections are not properly handled.

Abel Nair, Senior Lawyer with McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP, added: “This settlement underscores the need for continued investigations into these agencies to stop the internal retaliation which may occur and which ultimately destroys he careers and puts people’s lives at risk.”

Additional Background

The Los Angeles Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Bureau (FPB) is responsible for various duties associated with public safety and the prevention of fires, including enforcement of the basic building regulations and codes as they apply to the City of Los Angeles.

The Plaintiffs reported up the chain of command that they believed that the LAFD was: (1) sending unqualified, untrained, and unsupervised inspectors to inspect public facilities; (2) engaging in rushed inspections; and (3) failing to complete inspections and/or not following various codes and regulations, all of which misled the public into believing the buildings were safe and put lives in danger. The Plaintiffs identified that they believed that newly minted inspectors produced incomplete and inaccurate fire inspection reports which were “signed-off” by individuals at FPB when the reports should have been rejected. These inspections were part of then Fire Marshal John Vidovich’s “Operation Catch-Up” program, which was implemented when it was revealed that the LAFD had thousands of overdue inspections.

Despite engaging in a Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protected activity when speaking out against the misconduct and safety concerns of “Operation Catch-Up,” the firefighters were subjected to demotions, made the targets of baseless investigations, threatened with discipline and loss of pay, and other retaliatory actions. Plaintiffs further endured retaliatory acts concerning what they perceived as threats from Vidovich in staff meetings that FPB members who were critical of the program would be “dealt with.” As targets of the LAFD’s unrelenting retaliation practices, the Plaintiffs’ career paths have essentially ended.

 

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