The city will pay $1.43 million to settle claims by a black firefighter who said he suffered harassment and discrimination after co-workers served him spaghetti laced with dog food, officials announced Friday.
The settlement between the city and Tennie Pierce was reached before the firefighter’s lawsuit was to go to trial Monday.
Under the terms of the deal, Pierce will receive about $60,000 in back pay, city clerk Frank Martinez said in a statement. Pierce, who has been on unpaid leave, also agreed to resign from the Fire Department and drop all claims against the city.
The payment is considerably less than a $2.7 million settlement the City Council agreed to pay Pierce last year. That deal was later vetoed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa when photos surfaced on a Web site showing Pierce participating in hazing pranks.
“Today’s agreement is the best possible outcome for the taxpayers. It reduces the original settlement by nearly half, while protecting Angelenos from further liability,” Villaraigosa said.
Last week, legal experts warned the City Council that Pierce’s lawsuit could cost the city more than $7 million if it goes to trial.
An after-hours call to Pierce’s attorney, Genie Harrison, was not immediately returned.
Pierce sued the city in 2005 after fellow firefighters mixed dog food into his spaghetti dinner. He said he suffered retaliation for reporting the incident as well as verbal slurs, insults and derogatory remarks, including taunting by firefighters “barking like dogs (and) asking him how dog food tasted.”
Pierce’s claim was one of several lawsuits alleging a pattern of harassment and discrimination against women or minorities working for the department.
The cases have cost taxpayers more than $15 million since 2005, including a record $6.2 million judgment to Brenda Lee, a black lesbian firefighter who said she was taunted and retaliated against for complaining.
Fire Chief William Bamattre was forced to retire last year amid accusations that he’d failed to root out hazing and harassment during a decade on the job. Douglas Barry, who served as interim chief for nine months, became the city’s first black fire chief when he was sworn in last week.