Lafd Case Study

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College of Business and Economics CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, LOS ANGELES

LOS ANGELES FIRE DEPARTMENT (LAFD): DIVERSITY IGNITES DISCRIMINATION Patricia Robbins & Stephen McGuire
October 2, 2009 This case study is a revised version of the original study authored by Oshin Babaian, Fernando Iniguez, Vardui Koshkaryan, Maribel Pelayo, Patricia Robbins & Taguhi Sogomonyan under the supervision of Prof. Stephen McGuire, “Los Angeles Fire Department,” Proceedings of the 2008 NACRA Annual Meeting, 22 (1), Oct. 30-Nov. 1, Durham, NH.

“Feed the Big Dog!” touted forty-nine-year-old African American veteran firefighter, Tennie Pierce, at the crew’s early morning beach volleyball game in October 2004. Pierce, who called himself “Big Dog” during the games, taunted the much shorter Latino paramedic, twenty-four-year-old Jorge Arevalo as he repeatedly shouted “I take craps bigger than you!” 1 comparing Arevalo to the size of his feces. The dinner bell rang at six that evening at Fire Station 5 in Westchester, California. It was Arevalo’s turn to cook dinner. Arriving fifteen minutes late, Pierce began eating the spaghetti with meat sauce that awaited him on the stove. After a few bites, he noticed some of the men laughing. Pierce demanded to know what was in his food, and as the others chuckled, he ran out. Jorge Arevalo apologized to Pierce that night for mixing dog food into his dinner. An Asian female firefighter stated that Pierce accepted the apology and called it “water under the bridge.” 2 It was a surprise to some of the crewmembers when Pierce later Pierce later sued the city for racial discrimination and was rewarded $1.43 million in settlement with $60,000 in back pay. TENNIE PIERCE (Source: www.msnbc.msn.com)

The LAFD’s long-held tradition of horseplay and pranks resulted in a number of lawsuits that claimed discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation. Media coverage of the lawsuits highlighted inherent issues in the LAFD. Another highly publicized incident involved, Melissa Kelley, a female firefighter who was injured during a drill called “The Humiliator,” and was left hospitalized with a back injury and off-duty with pay for six months. The drill involved lifting a 180- pound 35- foot ladder, in which Kelley became pinned under the ladder. Captain Lima, who supervised the training, stated that he applied the same standard towards Kelley as he would for any male recruit. Captain Lima refused to help Kelley or let anyone else help her and she was pinned under the ladder. Kelley remained silent and was reluctant to report the incident. In a field dominated by men, Captain I Alicia Mathis felt that the voices of female firefighters were suppressed. Mathis filed a claim in September of 2006 against the City of Los Angeles threatening a class-action lawsuit on behalf of female firefighters. “It needed to be done. I really was fearful for women in the organization. I was really fearful that we would never go beyond.” Out of love for her job, Mathis aggressively sought improvements against discrimination, harassment, and “grueling” drills that she felt were targeted at women. Several incidents served as motivation to file the claim. In addition to Melissa Kelley’s story, a woman was sexually assaulted at her assigned station and another woman was “trained to the point where she had to have a hysterectomy.” Mathis believed that the LAFD’s problems needed to be made public in order to stop the rampant discrimination and harassment present in the Department. CAPTAIN I ALICIA MATHIS (Source: http://www.joinlafd.org)

LAFD: DIVERSITY IGNITES DISCRIMINATION

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LAFD’S MISSION Located in a “melting pot” of ethnic communities, the LAFD consisted of 112 fire stations that fought a plethora of fires that spanned over 470 square miles (See Exhibit #1: Fire Station Locations and Jurisdictions). These fires...
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