INGLEWOOD — A former assistant to Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr., who also claims to be the mayor’s ex-girlfriend, has filed a lawsuit against the mayor and the city alleging she lost her job after ending their nearly nine-year consensual relationship.
Melanie McDade-Dickens’ lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, accuses Butts and the city of wrongful termination, sexual harassment, discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Additionally, the suit alleges that city officials, including City Manager Artie Fields and Human Resources Director Jose Cortes, were aware of the harassment and did nothing to stop it.
“After she dumped him, the mayor retaliated against her and set upon a course to ruin her reputation, and, using two puppets he employed, to destroy her career,” said Carl Douglas, the lead attorney on her case.
The 55-page complaint alleges that Butts, Cortes and Fields conspired to terminate her employment by locking her out of weekly meetings, monitoring and restricting access to her emails and alienating her from city staff.
Mira Hashmall, an attorney representing the city, scoffed at the claims against both the city and Butts.
“The city of Inglewood rejects the allegations contained in Melanie McDade’s complaint and is prepared to fight these outrageous and unfounded allegations all the way to trial,” Hashmall said. “The mayor categorically denies any and all allegations of coercion or harassment.”
Hashmall said the lawsuit is “full of salacious fabrications, is a tactic designed to draw attention away from Ms. McDade’s wrongdoing by smearing others. It will not work.”
The city fired McDade-Dickens after allegations of fraud and criminal behavior came to its attention, according to Hashmall.
McDade-Dickens met Butts in 2010 and she volunteered to work on his mayoral campaign, the suit states. He initially asked her to serve as his office manager, but he was so impressed by her knowledge and organizational skill he promoted her to his inner circle of advisers as part of his strategy committee, the suit states.
After Butts was elected mayor in 2010, he invited McDade-Dickens to be his executive assistant.
McDade-Dickens rose through the ranks starting as the mayor’s assistant to acting assistant city manager with a total salary and compensation package that exceeded $400,000 at the time of her termination at the end of 2019.
Many residents were concerned that McDade-Dickens’ salary was excessive due to the personal nature of her relationship with Butts, which Fields denied, stating her salary was commensurate with duties she had taken on.
“The position [executive assistant to the mayor and city manager] actually has more responsibilities than city department heads,” Fields said in an interview.
The lawsuit alleges the city condoned the sexual harassment, abuse, retaliation and defamation by Butts, Cortes and Fields when they failed to properly investigate her claims after she ended her relationship with Butts in early 2018.
She claims Butts repeatedly entered her home without permission and alleges he installed a tracking device on her car, as he would show up at places she was at on her regular off days.
“I showed up at work every single day, I didn’t miss an assignment, I was at every meeting that he eventually allowed me to be in,” McDade-Dickens said. “I still maintained all of my daily activities. I never slacked. I would close my door sometimes and cry and bite my tongue, but I compartmentalized my work and my relationship.”
McDade-Dickens said she was led to believe by Butts that their relationship would not interfere with her work, however, her lawsuit states she was made to perform sexual favors in his office and was responsible for running his personal errands on city time.
Butts came under fire in April 2019 when he was involved in an auto accident near the USC campus. He ran a red light and slammed into an oncoming car and a Los Angeles Police Department motor officer who was sitting stationary at the entrance Butts was turning into.
McDade-Dickens was dispatched to the scene, in what she calls an effort to conceal Butts being the driver of the car. Butts allegedly blamed the accident on their breakup, causing him to drive while being distracted.
“You have ruined my life,” Butts allegedly told her.
Her attorney, Douglas, called the mayor’s actions “creepy.”
“Mayor Butts is behaving like a pimple-faced 16-year-old,” Douglas said Jan. 26 at a press conference announcing the suit.
McDade-Dickens said she is fighting to regain her name and reputation after the city leaked confidential details of an employment investigation to reporters.
Butts has a documented history of banishing women from Inglewood City Hall, who challenge his authority.
Former Budget and Accounting Manager Barbara Ohno was terminated in 2015 for claims that the city was pressuring staff to “cook the books” to mask the city’s financial problems as they were in the midst of landing the newest NFL stadium being built by Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke.
Treasurer Wanda Brown was removed from participating in City Council meetings for also speaking out about the financial condition of the city. Brown also alleges that Butts locked her out of her computer, restricted her access to City Hall and had Inglewood police officers stationed outside of her home.
“I’m not an employee,” Brown said. “I was elected by the people to be their eyes, ears and voice and to let them know what is going on with the city’s finances. And that’s what I’m doing.”
McDade-Dickens’ lawsuit doesn’t ask for specific damages. However, when she filed her claim against the city last summer she was seeking $12 million in damages.
City News Service also contributed to this story.
2 Urban Girls is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the Compton and Inglewood area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.