This episode of Trial Lawyer Talk was recorded on Juneteenth. Employment attorney Genie Harrison discusses a famous case for a black firefighter that caused racial division in Los Angeles. What started as an incident of racial harassment and discrimination, very quickly grew into a hostile work environment with retaliation. Ultimately, it became a constructive termination case ending a career.
About Genie Harrison
Genie Harrison practices law in Los Angeles, CA. Genie Harrison Law Firm represents victims of wrongful termination, sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and other employee rights violations. Ms. Harrison is the President-Elect of CAALA, the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles. CAALA is the country’s largest local association of plaintiffs’ trial attorneys.
About this Case
Ms. Harrison’s client Tennie was a fire fighter at Fire Station No. 5 in Weschester, CA. Tennie’s captains and coworkers fed him dog food in a racially motivated prank. They knew they would get away with the prank because the fire department did not have a universal process for workplace investigations. After the prank, Tennie didn’t feel safe and went out on leave.
When Tennie returned to work, he faced a potentially life-threatening act of discrimination. Just prior to a “flash over” training exercise, someone tampered with his oxygen tank and mask. Tennie lost trust that he would be safe and taken care of by his fire fighting peers. “Trust is so integral and key to being able to function as a fire fighter. Once that trust was completely and irretrievable broken, Tennie could no longer do the job.” Tennie left the department just shy of his retirement and pension.
Ms. Harrison tells the story of the case. She uncovered systemic violations, harassment, discrimination, and retaliation across Los Angeles fire stations. She explains that “Tennie broke my heart.” This case helped spark necessary changes in the Los Angeles Fire Department. Ms. Harrison now works together with community groups and civil rights organizations to create systemic change. She said, “When there are committed people who remain focused on what’s right, we can make the change happen and it can be different and it can be substantially, measurably better.”
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