No Damages for LAFD Firefighter in Discrimination Suit


A jury weighing racial discrimination charges against the Los Angeles Fire Department found in favor of the city Tuesday, awarding no damages to a black firefighter who said he was insulted, transferred and suspended after speaking out against racism within the department.

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury that included a mix of ethnicities -- but no blacks -- deliberated about a day before rejecting claims made by Jabari S. Jumaane, who sued the city in April 2003 and wanted $7.5 million in damages.

Jumaane showed no reaction as the verdict was read, but publicly thanked the panel outside the courtroom. Three women who dissented from the 9-3 majority later hugged Jumaane and his attorney, Nana S. Gyamfi. All three women were in tears.

Robert S. Brown and Jorge M. Otano, the deputy city attorneys who handled the case, praised the majority of jurors who rejected Jumaane's claims of harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

"The jury followed the evidence, and I think they made the right decision," Brown said. "I think that justice was served."

In the end, Otano said, the only evidence was that the city did not discriminate against Jumaane.

Gyamfi said she was disappointed in the verdict and believed the case she presented showed discrimination occurred. She said she was considering an appeal.

The outcome might have been different had there been blacks on the jury, she said, but added that lawyers and their clients have no control over the jury pool presented to them for selection.

Asked how her client felt about the verdict, Gyamfi said:

"As a black man, he's used to being disappointed by the system. He'll continue to protect the citizens of Los Angeles, even though they chose not to protect him."

Jumaane is assigned to a fire station in the Mid-City area.

Gyamfi said she hoped the verdict would not have a "chilling effect" on the cases of other black firefighters who have filed discrimination suits against the LAFD.

Allegations of racism within the LAFD were reignited last year, largely due to the mayor vetoing a $2.7 million settlement for Tennie Pierce, a black firefighters who claims his colleagues fed him dogfood in some spaghetti. His case is set to go to trial Sept. 24.

That and two audits critical of the fire department prompted then-Chief Bill Bamattre to resign at the end of the year. Bamattre was hired in 1996 in part to reform the department, which had been plagued with discrimination suits from minorities and women.

"This is an example of the discrimination described in those audits," Gyamfi said in her closing arguments. "It is not limited to a bureau, it is widespread, according to the audits."

Jumaane, hired in 1986, was teased about his name and told supervisors he would not tolerate hazing or racial slurs, Gyamfi said.

Jumaane spoke out against internal department references to black firefighters as waterboys and against drawings circulated in the LAFD depicting blacks as cannibals, the lawsuit stated.

After the March 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police, Jumaane called for the resignation of the police chief at the time, Daryl Gates.

At first, his transfers from station to station were routine and, when he reached his third stop, he worked under Capt. Douglas Barry, who is black and now the fire chief, Gyamfi said. Typically, firefighters stay on their third assignment for a while, but Jumaane was transferred more than 10 times between 1986 and 1990, Gyamfi said.

Jumaane eventually accepted a promotion to inspector, so he would no longer have to work 24-hour shifts, but criticism of his work prompted him to ask to go back being a firefighter, Gyamfi said.

In his final argument, Brown told jurors Jumaane had a good work record from 1986 to 1998, then his work took a turn for the worse.

During times Jumaane was supposed to be supervising brush clearance in his role as an inspector, he was found in an office doing paperwork, Brown said, adding that Jumaane gave vague explanations in writing, then failed to meet a supervisor to explain what happened.

For about a week in mid-May 1998, Jumaane did not show up for work for about a week without calling, Brown said. When he finally reported for duty in the field, he did so late and was told by a supervisor to go back to the station, Brown said.

Jumaane was suspended for 15 days in 2000 after withdrawing his request for a Board of Rights hearing, trial testimony showed.

Jumaane asked to be returned to firefighter status in 2001 and filed his initial allegations against the department with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing in 2002.

Another black firefighter, Brenda Lee, alleges she was discriminated against because she is black, female and a lesbian. She claims she was forced to do strenuous exercises, that her locker was ransacked at least twice and that she was later deemed unfit for duty.

Jury selection in Lee's case is ongoing in another courtroom of the downtown Los Angeles courthouse.

On June 7, LAFD Capt. Frank Lima won $3.75 million from the city after a jury found he was retaliated against for refusing to give preferential treatment to female firefighter recruits.