Inglewood faces new sexual harassment related lawsuit

By Emilie St. John

Contributing Writer

INGLEWOOD — The city is facing another allegations of sexual harassment by a former employee in the Finance Department.

On Feb. 28, a former payroll supervisor obtained a right to sue letter from the state’s Civil Rights Department.

According to the letter, the payroll supervisor was on the job from August to September 2023. He is alleging that during that time he was discriminated against due to a documented disability.  

“During complainant’s employment with respondent, he informed his supervisor that on or about Aug. 8, 2023, he had a tooth infection and was told to take the day off,” the state’s letter said. “On or about Aug. 25, 2023, complainant was on medical leave due to COVID until on or about Aug. 29, 2023 and provided a doctor’s note for the same via email. Ultimately, on or about Sept. 14, 2023, complainant’s employment with respondent was terminated due to his disability(ies)/medical condition(s) and/or in retaliation for his reasonable requests for accommodation.”

The former employee further alleges he was retaliated against by then-Revenue Manager Maria Heaney and was allegedly terminated from his position for not passing probation.

He further alleges he was mocked by Heaney and his subordinate due to his sexual orientation.

“In the Payroll Department, we had multiple conflicts between staff members and even Heaney accusing staff of not performing duties properly,” the former employee said. “She would call me multiple times into her office to let me know about how we needed to make sure we do not question anyone’s timecard or errors especially for the management team or police office department. 

“Multiple times, Maria will call me in her office letting me know that I needed to stop being so flamboyant. Even one of my staff, a payroll specialist, came up to me and told me that Maria told her I was ‘gay’ and she wanted to know how it felt to be ‘gay’ because her son just came out.”

Heaney was previously identified in a now settled lawsuit as harassing a former budget and accounting manager in 2014 who had her employment terminated for speaking out against the city’s fiscal practices.

Heaney also was identified by Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr.’s former aide, Melanie McDade, for helping her fix her timecard to reduce her tax liability to the Internal Revenue Service.

The City terminated McDade for allegedly committing fraud and Heaney was promoted to acting finance director.

McDade suit against the city on her claims of wrongful termination and sexual harassment is expected to go to trial later this year.

“Since the MeToo movement, we have seen a rise in employees feeling empowered to report sexual harassment which is great,” said a vice president of Human Resources, who declined to be identified. “This behavior should never happen and employees have the right to work in an environment that is free from harassment.

“Employers should have strong harassment policies with strict enforcement so these behaviors aren’t tolerated in the workplace.”

The payroll supervisor was not the first city employee to sue alleging sexual harassment, despite the city requiring employees to undergo mandatory sexual harassment training every two years.

Alan Smith, a former permit technician in the Planning Department, sued the city in 2016 alleging his colleagues had him watch a YouTube video called “Eat Da Poo Poo” where a Ugandan pastor was making hateful, degrading and demoralizing comments about sexuality.

Smith claimed he kept his sexuality private, but was berated by other staff members and called a “sissy panda” in front of his co-workers.  

Smith was eventually terminated for allegedly not passing probation. The city settled his lawsuit in December 2020.

Another employee, Leonard Williams, worked in the library as a security officer and sued the city in 2018 alleging he was sexually harassed by a member of the library staff for a period spanning four years between 2014 through 2018.

The security officer, employed by Alltech Protective Services, would routinely receive unsolicited text messages and unwelcome touching from the library employee. After making complaints to the city’s Human Resources Department nothing was done to reprimand the city employee.

His case was settled for an undisclosed sum in early 2022.

Finally, in January 2023, another employee alleged she was being sexually harassed by her supervisor, which became public when an invoice related to the investigation appeared on the City Council for payment approval in September 2023.

Emilie St. John is a freelance journalist covering the areas of Carson, Compton, Inglewood and Willowbrook. Send tips to her at emiliesaintjohn@gmail.com.

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