Lawsuit Alleges Harassment, Retaliation in L.A. Department of Water and Power

A former Los Angeles Department of Water and Power employee filed a civil complaint this week alleging he suffered harassment and retaliation that ranged from slurs and graffiti to leaving a dead rat in his work truck while he worked as an electric distribution mechanic for the utility over the past three years.

Thomas Gonzales says he was forced to resign from his job at the LADWP's Palms yard in June due to "severe, pervasive, and relentless harassment he experienced in his workplace," his attorney, Ian Graham of Kravis, Graham & Zucker LLP, wrote in court documents.

"It was a nightmare," Gonzales told KTLA.

Coworkers "engaged in a pattern and practice of harassment, threats and abuse because of Plaintiff's perceived sexual orientation and because of his gender," the complaint states. "The harassment was verbal, visual and physical in nature, including threats of violence and death, and occurred almost daily."

The claim further alleges that LADWP supervisors were repeatedly told of the situation, but did nothing to stop it, and retaliated against Gonzales for complaining to the utility's Equal Opportunity Office.

The trouble began shortly after Gonzales began working for the LADWP in 2015, according to the claim, which seeks unspecified damages.

Coworkers told him they had a tradition that new employees must take the crew out for an expensive lunch or dinner at a strip club, Graham wrote. Thomas, who is married, refused to take part.

"Shortly thereafter, DWP employees began calling plaintiff a f----- and other similar derogatory terms," the document alleges. Slurs and threats using similar language began appearing in graffiti scrawled around the workplace. Bumper stickers referencing a gay lifestyle were left on Thomas' vehicle.

After Thomas complained of the behavior to supervisors and the EOO, coworkers also began referring to him as a "rat," as well.

Thomas found rat sticker placed on his helmet, male genitalia drawn on his helmet, and in July of 2018, a dead rat was left in Thomas' work truck.

Supervisors repeatedly failed to stop the harassment, and initiated investigations into Thomas as a form of retaliation, Graham argued.

The claim included photos from other incidents alleged to have taken place at the Palms yard as evidence of an alleged ongoing problem.

They included a photo of an apprentice bound in tape and an image of a another apprentice employee who had been, "hogtied and placed prone on the ground, had his pants and underwear pulled down and was sodomized with DWP hard plastic electrical information cards."

"DWP's Palms yard is a cesspool of violence, intolerance, retribution and sexual orientation/gender harassment," Graham wrote.

The Department of Water and Power has since released the following statement:

“LADWP takes these allegations very seriously. Our employees’ health and well being is of the utmost importance. Due to pending litigation and the fact that this is a personnel matter we can not comment on the details of the case, but we are conducting a full and thorough investigation into the claims and will take appropriate action. While this situation is already under an ongoing investigation, we have just become aware of this lawsuit that was just filed this week.”

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