LOS ANGELES – A former security guard for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who alleges her return from vacation about three weeks late in 2015 after being stranded in Istanbul was used as a pretext to fire her, can take her pregnancy discrimination case to trial, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Viola Faruku alleges the real reason behind her termination was that she was an expectant mother and took a leave of absence after returning home, but defense attorney Natalie Luongo told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alan Rosenfield that the plaintiff was to blame for her own job loss.
“The plaintiff essentially abandoned her position as a security officer,” Luongo said.
Rosenfield rejected a defense motion to dismiss Faruku’s case.
“I think there are material triable issues,” the judge said.
Faruku’s lawsuit, filed in June 2016, alleges pregnancy discrimination and pregnancy leave discrimination. She is seeking unspecified damages from the county and the sheriff’s department.
Faruku, 32, joined the LASD as a security guard in April 2010. She says she took a trip to Albania in early August 2014 and was scheduled to return to work on Aug. 25 of that month.
She says her Aug. 24, 2014, return flight from Albania was canceled and she had to get a substitute flight the next day, when she was supposed to be back on the job. However, the aircraft was delayed leaving Albania and she missed her connecting flight out of Istanbul, the suit says, leaving her “stranded in Turkey, a country where she had no family or friends,” according to her court papers.
The next day, Faruku was able to catch a plane to London, but she became ill in Great Britain’s capital city and was unable to travel for a few weeks, the suit states. She returned to work on Sept. 16, 2014.
In her argument, Luongo said Faruku was not alone in London.
“Her fiance just happened to be there,” Luongo said.
The burden was on Faruku to call her supervisors and keep them updated on her situation, Luongo said.
In her lawsuit, Faruku says she told her supervisors in late September or early October 2014 that she was pregnant. She was assigned light duty as a result, but a sergeant also told her that she was being investigated by the LASD’s Internal Affairs unit for allegedly providing false reasons for returning late from vacation, the suit states.
Faruku’s child was born in June 2015 and she went on leave, returning in December of that year, according to her lawsuit. Two hours after she came back, her sergeant told her she was being “suspended pending investigation” regarding her 2014 vacation and was told to “go home and take care of your son,” the suit says.
Faruku was fired in January 2016 for “improperly extending her vacation” and accused of giving false reasons to explain her actions, according to her court papers.
Faruku alleges that no “reasonable investigation” was conducted by the LASD regarding her vacation and that she was fired because she took pregnancy leave. The LASD also anticipated she might have to take more leave time off in the future if she got pregnant again, according to her court papers.
Trial of Faruku’s case is scheduled for July 17.