By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Anderson’s dilemma is apparent in the experiences of those who suffered and were paid off for their silence — and in some cases threatened with legal action if they broke that silence. “They say you can’t fight City Hall,” says a former line patrolman who was degraded and racially abused before taking an early retirement and agreeing to a settlement that until Monday was buried for years. “I wasn’t interested in a monetary settlement as much as I wanted to see some discipline of people who had done employees of color really bad. But I got no satisfaction. It’s deep and rooted at the DWP. People coming up the ladder all have connections, even family connections. And it’s always your word against someone else who has the right connections.”
Martinez has only been at the DWP since 1998, and he has barely had time to catch his breath as the acting GM. But he has come up through similar ranks as Frank Salas, and a look at Salas’ exposure to employee complaints in the past speaks to the longevity of the crisis, which includes several pending gender-discrimination and sexual-harassment lawsuits, and failures to remedy it.
In 1999, Salas, chief operating officer at the time, received a report from former Equal Employment Opportunity Section (EEOS) director Imelda McGuirk. It stated that institutional racial and gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation ran throughout the DWP, that her office lacked the staff to deal with it, and that she herself had been the subject of retaliation for trying to address it. Last month, a full five years later, Anderson, the current EEOS head, presented the board with a “Confidential Report” describing employee frustration with a retaliatory culture and resistance by management to change. The L.A. Weekly has obtained a copy of the report. According to Martin Schlageter, energy program director for the Clean Air Coalition, who attended the briefing, Commissioner Silvia Saucedo asked Anderson what she did with the report. “Anderson informs the commissioner that six months ago she gave the report to the legal department and to Salas,” Schlageter says. “But it caught my attention that Salas is sitting right there, and nobody even bothers to ask him what he did. He just sits there and says nothing.” Anderson replies that the report had been expanded to additional sections, and will be released to the public in September. Salas, who had not yet stepped down as acting GM at the time, did not comment.
If concerned council members, Delgadillo or the mayor were to poke around, they might find other high-ranking managers at the DWP who also are no strangers to a retaliatory culture. One happens to be former chief assistant city attorney Thomas Hokinson, a veteran of the City Attorney’s Office, now an assistant general manager in charge of corporate services at the DWP. Hokinson approved the use of secret settlements that covered up harassment and retaliation when he was the head of the DWP’s legal team from 1995 to 1999. Foremost was that of claims investigator Milton Crawford, a member of Hokinson’s staff who alleged retaliation after helping employees with their harassment grievances. At the same time, African-American and Latino workers in the Electrical “Trouble” Section, a high-risk utility-repair outfit, were alleging they had been terrorized with racial epithets. A line patrolman alleged he had been sent out alone to dangerous work sites because he is black. Hokinson knew that the workplace was roiling with trouble.
On one occasion, in 1998, a Los Angeles superior-court judge told lawyers at Epstein, Becker and Green, who had been hired out of the DWP’s budget on Hokinson’s watch, that the use of a confidentiality clause to resolve an anti-Semitism lawsuit was against California law and public policy. The clause somehow found its way into the final settlement anyway, according to sources who are familiar with the agreement, but who declined to comment. Recently, Hokinson told L.A. Weekly he had no recollection of specific discrimination cases nor of any office policy related to confidentiality. Yet one of his subordinates and eventual successor, retired chief assistant city attorney Philip Shiner, had experienced similar admonitions from a judge in 1994. The practice of secret settlements occurred throughout the 1990s at the DWP and continued even after Hokinson left to take over the civil-litigation section of the City Attorney’s Office, where he worked from 1999 to 2001.
Shiner was transferred to the legal team at the airport department for several months before retiring in 2003. Despite repeated requests, he too has declined to discuss his approval of confidential settlements, citing lack of authorization from the DWP to comment. In 2001, Hokinson moved into the front office of the DWP, and is now one of the high-level managers charged with implementing reforms recommended by Renette Anderson, a purported agent for change who has no formal authority over Hokinson or any other assistant general manager.
Mayor Hahn was the city attorney from 1995 to 2001, a period of upheaval at the DWP. His office would not respond to repeated requests for comment on how legal matters were resolved during his time in office, or how he views the recent revelations of employee mistreatment at the DWP. Delgadillo has shown he is willing to speak to the issue of respecting California’s public-information laws, and has raised the expectations of how his office will serve the city. “Who do we work for?” he rhetorically asked the gathering of business and political leaders on Monday. “Is it the general managers, the commissioners or the mayor? My lawyers work for me, and my client is the city of Los Angeles. Not the DWP. Not the harbor. Not the airport. We are always answering to a higher client.”