A Black investigator in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, who alleges she’s been the victim of harassment and discrimination in the workplace, will have to shore up some parts of her lawsuit to proceed with all its current allegations, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis said she was initially inclined to dismiss some of the claims against the individual defendants in Sgt. Karen Pewitt‘s suit, who include former District Attorney Jackie Lacey. However she said that after reconsideration, she will give Pewitt 20 days to file an amended suit and correct any deficiencies.
Pewitt named Los Angeles County, Lacey and about a dozen male and female Bureau of Investigation supervisors as defendants in the suit filed last April 30. Her allegations include hostile work environment, retaliation, discrimination and sexual harassment.
The Bureau of Investigation operated like a “(good old) boys club” in which it was stressed that employees would be team players and that one is a “problem” if he or she reports misconduct, sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation or other abuses in the workplace, the suit alleges.
Pewitt seeks unspecified damages.
Attorney Jeffrey M. Hausman, on behalf of the county and the individual defendants, argued there was nothing in Pewitt’s complaint to demonstrate actual harassment and that the evidence against Lacey and the other individuals was especially weak.
But plaintiff’s attorney Nancy P. Doumanian argued her client has endured 15 years of a difficult abusive work environment and that it is too soon to consider dismissing any of her claims.
Pewitt was hired into the Bureau of Investigation in February 1999, and during her time on the job, she has taken part in administrative hearings and provided input regarding lawsuits brought by office employees, as well as defendants in criminal cases, the suit states. She worked without any problems for the first 10 years, but by 2009, she alleges she detected “an environment with workplace hostility, tension, degradation of and disrespect towards women.”
That year, Pewitt obtained a video depicting fictitious law enforcement male and female officers who believed they had won the lottery, in which some of the white women yell and disparage their boss with a pejorative term for gay people, the suit states. She was alarmed the email went viral and that no one was held accountable, according to her suit.
Pewitt alleges she was groped and inappropriately touched by another bureau employee during a work-related event in 2012, leaving her “shocked and stunned” by behavior she deemed “unwelcome and offensive.” In another assignment in which she processed Black candidates for Social Security Administration work, Pewitt detected that a manager disfavored Black females, according to her court papers.
“Over the years, she hears complaints about his discriminatory practices in the workplace,” the suit states. “She is told that white males are overheard stating, `We’re going to take this bureau back.”‘
Other Black employees later complained to her that management was “indifferent” toward them, according to the suit, which says Pewitt found that she worked in “a hostile work environment where harassment, discrimination and retaliation against women and against complainers” occurred.
Pewitt received no support from management and was instead criticized for her job performance, denigrated and disrespected, the suit states. She alleges her complaints about the work environment were ignored and she was “subjected to multiple adverse employment actions.”