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Moreover, two of the six women the department touts on its Web site as shining examples of City Hall's push to bring in women have actually filed gender-discrimination grievances against the LAFD. Captain Alicia Mathis and firefighter Elena Mattox wax poetic about their dedication to the department — yet Mathis is a particularly harsh critic of her employer. In 2006, she stood outside City Hall and told reporters that she had complained to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging gender discrimination, a hostile work environment, harassment and retaliation.
Mathis' wide-ranging claims typify the "he said, she said" daytime-TV feel of many of these disputes. She says she was pulled off the female-recruitment project, and retaliated against, after she testified about maltreatment to the mayor's political appointees on the Fire Commission, and was kissed against her will by a firefighter — whom she will not name.
She now works at a station near LAX. Handling her claim is attorney Harrison, who also represented Pierce, Lee and Bressler.
Recently, Harrison told the L.A.Times that she planned instead to file a federal-employment-commission claim on behalf of Mathis.
Another of Harrison's female clients is Mattox, an 18-year veteran firefighter who holds — once again — a key job in recruitment and helps to train firefighter candidates. Mattox and department spokeswoman Davies filed discrimination claims with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which then accused the department of violating civil rights laws by subjecting African-American and female firefighters to a "pattern and practice" of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
That's a major allegation, and one that carries the weight of the feds.
But when the Weekly contacted an accused captain and two of the eyewitnesses to Mattox's alleged discrimination, it learned that the eyewitnesses and the captain were not contacted by EEOC investigators. As it turned out, the Los Angeles office of the EEOC, overseen by regional attorney Anna Park, had attacked the Fire Department without doing routine, investigative legwork.
Mattox claims that the captain ordered her to drill so hard that she had to get a hysterectomy. "The excessive drilling caused significant internal injuries for me," she alleged in her claim. According to her complaint, a captain at Fire Station 12, John Cappon, told a male rookie that he "got rid of another one today."
But one eyewitness, former firefighter Mark Wilhite, tells the Weekly that Cappon "overdrilled" the entire crew — not just Mattox — and that this was not unusual for Cappon. "It was an abuse of authority," says Wilhite. "[It was] excessive and it was downright inhumane" — but not as bad as Cappon's harsh drilling of the entire bunch a few days before, at which Mattox was not present.
Yet federal investigators did not interview Wilhite. They did, however, contact Captain Jerry Thomas — who tells the Weekly he wasn't even working that day and did not see what transpired. Thomas, now retired, is a vocal critic of the LAFD who stood up for Pierce when he sought $2.7 million from the city and claimed falsely that it was an all-white crew of firefighters that tricked him into eating dog food (the crew was multiracial, and a Latino pulled the prank).
The department tried to defuse the Mattox controversy by transferring Cappon. Furious, he sued, claiming he was punished as a result of trumped-up allegations by Mattox. An internal LAFD investigation failed to find that Cappon mistreated Mattox or singled her out as a woman.
Despite the grossly incomplete EEOC investigation, a lot is now at stake. If Villaraigosa and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo refuse to settle with Mattox and Fire Department spokeswoman d'Lisa Davies, the EEOC could refer the case to the Department of Justice, which could sue or force the Fire Department into yet another "consent decree" — federal oversight in which city hiring and other practices are run, at least in part, by the feds.
"They recruit them, and then they beat them up," claims attorney Thomas Hoegh, who is handling at least two lawsuits against the Fire Department. "They encourage the women to join the department, then look what happens to them. They are all getting hurt badly."
Most of the injuries, he says, "are occurring during training activities. One wonders what is going on here. There is a double standard. They are encouraging them to join, then they do everything in their power to try to get rid of them."
But firefighter Julie Wolf — one of the rare women working on the fire line at a fire station in Los Angeles — has a different theory about what is causing the endless cycle of female hirings, washouts, injuries and lawsuits.
"Some of the women can't do the basics because of strength," says Wolf, a tough-talking engineer at Station 63. "Captains document it, and all of a sudden it is a 'hostile working environment' against the captain... I have never seen a woman overdrilled, and it has never happened to me."
Wolf is growing tired of the recriminations — from women. "That is what we do. That is our job. All of a sudden it is humiliating and hostile for a member to perform their job? I don't understand that."