City Agrees To Pay $5.5 Million To Firefighters’ Union For Rights Violations

La Verne has agreed to a $5.5 million settlement with its firefighters union.

On top of that, the city has agreed to purge certain documents, dating back to February 2017 — including performance reviews and evaluations — which alleged misconduct against members of the La Verne Firefighters’ Association, Local 3624.

“This is not only a reasonable settlement agreement, it is a productive one,” City Manager Bob Russi said in a news release. “It is the best choice for allowing the city to take the lead on restoring our relationship with our firefighters and moves us away from being adversaries in court. We can now all work together for the benefit of our residents and business owners.”

The City Council approved the terms of the settlement on April 11. La Verne’s municipal self-insurance carrier, the California Joint Powers Authority, made the decision to pay $5.5 million and resolve two cases involving the union outside of court. The city’s insurer will pay the association one lump sum 30 days from the signing.

In a statement, Russi referred to the move as a business decision aimed at improving the strained relationship between the two parties. The union did not offer a statement in reaction to final settlement.

Rising tensions

The battle between the two parties began, the association alleged, when fire Chief Peter Jankowski retaliated against union members for supporting the mayor’s political opponent during the 2017 campaign.

The initial 44-page suit was filed in federal court on Dec. 4, 2017. It claimed the firefighters were subject to “frivolous disciplinary investigations” and “unwarranted and excessive discipline,” among other complaints.

The suit was amended Feb. 22, 2018, with 55 more pages, asking the case go to a jury trial. The union was seeking in excess of $1 million for mental and emotional injuries, distress, anxiety and humiliation.

The second claim came Dec. 21, 2018, which alleged members’ Firefighters Bill of Rights were violated when Battalion Chief Michael Thompson secretly took more than 250 videos, 1,500 photographs and kept a 235-page file of notes, some of which included conversations union members had with their wives.

Terms revealed

The union was being represented by the Los Angeles firm Brown White & Osborn, which also represented Downey firefighters in its $3.7 million settlement against that city.

A tentative agreement was announced Feb. 27 — the same day jury selection was set to start in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom — but details were not announced at the time.

Under the terms, La Verne has agreed to bring in a professional team building and leadership consultant, according to a news release. It also stipulates that neither the city, Jankowski or Thompson admit any wrongdoing.

City files that are destroyed will never “have existed, and all investigations referenced therein, never to have occurred,” the agreement states. Besides eighty-sixing some files, La Verne has also agreed to redact any files — if part of a larger document — that involved allegations of misconduct against the union members.

New personnel rules

How promotions and recruitment candidates are handled by the department and city will temporarily change.

La Verne will use an outside personnel firm to handle a promotional exam for a battalion chief with Interim Fire Chief Kirk Summers also involved. The city will also start utilizing a new process: eliminating the multiple choice portion but keeping the writing exercise.

On top of that, La Verne will conduct promotional exams for captain and engineer — which it is required to do within four months of the agreement being approved. The city is allowed to recruit internally for those three positions, the pact states.

Russi, City Attorney Robert Kress, Mayor Don Kendrick, Jankowski, Thompson and Mark Horine, a now-retired battalion chief, are not allowed to have any involvement in the promotional examinations.

Not all of the hiring power will go to the union; the fire chief will still be able to determine the minimum number of engineers needed.

In addition, the city will have to meet with union members and “develop mutually acceptable procedures for testing and preparation of candidates for future promotional exams.” A separate agreement will have to be formally approved by both parties in the future for any new procedures.

Going forward, La Verne must keep an active list of candidates who could be promoted to the ranks of engineer, captain and battalion chief. Any time that list is empty, La Verne will have four months to conduct exams and develop a new list of candidates, according to the legal document.

Once terms of the conditions have been met, La Verne will have to present it to the federal judge for approval.


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