A fraternal organization of black firefighters opposes a request for documents filed by a white firefighter who is suing the city, alleging he suffered a backlash in 2017 when he complained that a black colleague had harassed him threatening to drop a bomb on him.
Firefighter James Sharlein’s lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court alleges discrimination, harassment and retaliation, and that some of the alleged misconduct was racially motivated. Firefighter Ta’Ana Mitchell is also named as an accused.
Last June, Sharlein’s lawyers asked the black firefighting group, the Stentorians, among others, for minutes of the group’s meetings from 2010 to the present day as well as the identities of the organization’s members and leaders at during this same period. Mitchell is a member of the Stentorians.
“The case involving Mr. Sharlein against the LAFD has nothing to do with the Stentorians,” the group’s chairman, Gerald Durant, said in an affidavit filed Wednesday. “The request for documents requested by this subpoena is overbroad and harassing. In fact, it is an attempt to infiltrate our organization without any legal basis to do so.
Stentorians’ funding is limited and it is “unfortunate that we have to spend our limited resources fighting this baseless subpoena seeking irrelevant documents dating back to 2010, when even by their own admission the relevant events took place in 2017,” Durant said.
The Stentorians are a charity independent of the LAFD, Durant explains.
“We don’t have the ability to make decisions on behalf of the LAFD,” Durant said.
The group also objects in its court documents to the plaintiff’s characterization of the Stentorians as “a militant organization whose stated agenda is to promote the recruitment, hiring and promotion of black people by and in the LAFD in preference to white people. and other races”, the wording is “in poor taste”.
The Stentorians further state in their court documents that the organization was founded to “address the challenges of discrimination and segregation in the LAFD” and that there are currently over 500 male and female members.
“The Stentorians supported Ms. Mitchell because she is a member of an organization that seeks to promote equality and fairness across the fire service,” the group states in its court documents.
A hearing on the Stentorians’ motion is scheduled for Monday before Judge Monica Bachner.
Sharlein was working at Fire Station 50 when Mitchell was assigned there in December 2017 as a trainee firefighter, according to her complaint filed in December 2018. That same month, she began making inappropriate remarks about him, including “I wanted to drop a bombshell on Sharlein” and “If he was a girl, I would have beat his (epithet)”, both delivered in the presence of the plaintiff and an LAFD supervisor, according to the suit.
Mitchell also said she wanted to punch Sharlein in the face and that her brother, who was recently released from prison, wanted to beat him, according to the complaint.
Mitchell told black members of the LAFD staff that the plaintiff was harassing her, an allegation she knew to be false, according to the suit.
In her own affidavit, Sharlein says she filed a report with the LAPD in June 2018 regarding Mitchell’s alleged behavior.
“I filed this criminal complaint because I believed Mitchell had committed several criminal acts, including crimes involving bomb threats, threatening to blow up a fire station, threatening to blow me up…” said Sharlein.
In a letter to then-LAFD fire chief Ralph Terrazas, a copy of which is included in her statement, Sharlein says Mitchell was interviewed by a television news station and said she was a victim. of “systemic racism and sexism” within the LAFD.
“Why does she say these things she knows aren’t true?” Sharlein asks. “More importantly, why is she allowed to continue to harass and make false and misleading statements.”
LAFD management knew or should have known of Mitchell’s alleged misconduct, but failed to arrest her even after Sharlein complained, the lawsuit alleges.
Instead of helping Sharlein, LAFD management denied him promotions to privileged positions and transferred him to less favorable and “potentially more dangerous” workplaces, according to the lawsuit.
Sharlein also alleges that he was denied the opportunity to earn overtime, that he was falsely accused of spreading gossip and rumors about another firefighter, and that he was subjected to inappropriate investigations.
A “substantial motivating reason” for the city and LAFD to subject Sharlein to unfavorable terms of employment was her race and gender, according to the suit.