A city employee who was disciplined for misusing city parking passes and at one point fired is suing the City of West Hollywood, alleging that senior city staffers have abused him because he testified on behalf of former City Council deputy Ian Owensin his lawsuit against the city.
In his 46-page lawsuit, filed in December in L.A. Superior Court, Brendan Rome makes a long list of other allegations. In addition to firing him because he testified in the Owens lawsuit, he alleges the city has done everything from discriminating against him because he is HIV positive to telling people that he is a “thief” to assigning him to a job at a city “maintenance yard” where he was exposed to asbestos.
Rome began working with the City of West Hollywood on a part-time basis in 2001 and became full time in 2002, working in the Community Development Department. He was fired in May 2015. A member of the city’s employee union, he appealed the firing, and an arbitrator decided in his favor in August of last year. Rome was re-instated in another position in the city’s Public Works Department, which he alleges is evidence that the city was trying to retaliate against him. Rome complained that that position was in a maintenance yard where he worked in a building that exposed him to asbestos, which he said was particularly dangerous given his HIV status. The site to which he referred is a building at 7317 Romaine St. near Poinsettia Park and houses city building and maintenance workers and its film studio.
City Attorney Mike Jenkins disputed Rome’s allegations of suffering. Jenkins noted that after the arbitrator’s decision the city reinstated Rome at his same salary and paid him back pay and benefits for the time he was off the city payroll.
“Mr. Rome has suffered no damages,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said that when Rome raised the issue of asbestos at his workplace the City of West Hollywood engaged a professional asbestos consultant who concluded that there was no evidence of harmful asbestos. Nevertheless, Jenkins said, the city offered to move Rome back to City Hall, where he currently works in the Community Development Department
“The city would not put its employees at risk by putting them in a building with asbestos problems,” Jenkins said.
Rome is asking that the court order the city to pay his legal fees and pay an unstated amount for damages.
Rome’s allegation that he was fired for testifying on behalf of Owens has elevated what would be viewed as an un-newsworthy lawsuit into another public debate about the lawsuits filed by Michelle Rex in 2016 and her fellow council deputy, Ian Owens, in 2015. Owens sued the city and his boss, City Councilmember John Duran, alleging sexual harassment by Duran and that the city wasn’t willing to look into his allegations that council deputy Fran Solomon was campaigning from City Hall on behalf of her boss, Councilmember John Heilman. Rex, a friend of Owens who had a fraught relationship with Solomon, sued the city over losing her job with the dissolution of the deputy system.
The Owens suit resulted in a decision by the council to eliminate the deputy system, which had long been controversial given that deputies such as Rex, who worked for Councilmember John D’Amico, had managed his election campaign and that deputies often inappropriately interfered with the work of City Hall employees. The city settled the Owens lawsuit with a payment of $500,000, which was paid by its insurer. Duran denied allegations that he had sexually harassed Owens but did admit to have met him on Grindr, the gay hookup app, and have sex with him before hiring him. The Rex lawsuit is ongoing.