Procedural errors hinder Inglewood mayor’s ex-aide’s suit

By 2UrbanGirls

Contributing writer

INGLEWOOD — Mayor James T. Butts Jr. has recorded a handful of legal victories in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by his former aide, turned girlfriend.

Melanie McDade-Dickens served as the mayor’s aide for nearly a decade, which included a stint on his campaign prior to his 2011 election victory.

McDade-Dickens alleged that she was retaliated against for breaking up with him in early 2018, and that her duties and pay were significantly reduced as a direct result.

A complaint filed by a resident with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office questioned whether her $312,000 annual salary was a gift of public funds.

After an investigation, the D.A.’s office reported that the salary was not a gift of public funds, but rather an error on the city’s behalf when they paid McDade-Dickens both “acting” and “special assignment pay” simultaneously. The city noted that it corrected the error in mid-2018, which caused the reduction in her salary.

Superior Court Judge Richard Burdge Jr. affirmed arguments raised by the mayor’s attorney’s that McDade-Dickens failed to file her claim in a timely manner and removed multiple causes of action from her initial complaint during a hearing held June 25.

According to the minute order, McDade-Dickens filed eight causes of action for sexual harassment under the Fair Housing Employment Act and Government Code 815.2(a), 820 against the city, failure to investigate and prevent harassment and retaliation, retaliation, harassment and discrimination in violation of Civil Code 51(A), 52.1(b) and Government Code 815.2(a), 820 against all defendants, wrongful constructive termination against city, whistleblower retaliation against city, intentional infliction of emotional distress against the city and the mayor, and negligent supervision against all defendants.

City Manager Artie Fields and city Human Resources Director Jose Cortes are named as defendants alongside the mayor.

The court’s ruling effectively strikes all causes of actions from McDade-Dickens’ first amended complaint, and she is only allowed to move forward with harassment and discrimination under the Unruh Act and Bane Act.

The court found McDade-Dickens sufficiently pled where she alleged the mayor engaged in “threats and coercion” in order to pressure her to reengage in a sexual relationship, for example, inviting himself to her home unannounced, which was sufficient to state a claim against the mayor only, not the remaining defendants Fields and Cortes.

The first three causes of action were removed due to the timeliness of the claim. Butts’ legal team argued that the claim sought to “back date” claims made against McDade-Dickens’ loss of income.

McDade-Dickens never formally filed a grievance against the reduction of pay and duties, and the court affirmed she had to file her claim within a year of the action taking place, which would have been by July 12, 2019. McDade’s claim was filed June 15, 2021, six months after she was officially terminated from her employment.

“The plaintiff filed a complaint with [the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing] on July 12, 2019, and received an immediate right to sue letter on the same day, thus, one year from the right to sue letter expired on July 12, 2020, and the instant the action was filed on January 25, 2021, is untimely,” the court ruled.

The remaining four causes of action were removed for various reasons.

The court agreed with the mayor’s lawyers that McDade-Dickens insufficiently sought a claim for wrongful constructive termination, as her first amended complaint admits she was terminated rather than forced to resign due to the mayor’s actions.

“In an attempt to avoid liability, an employer may refrain from actually firing an employee, preferring instead to engage in conduct causing him or her to quit.”

Under Tort Claims Act “a public entity is not liable for an injury, whether the injury arises out of an act or omission of the public entity or a public employee or any other person.”

The court affirmed McDade-Dickens’ claim was filed six months late, and agreed with Butts that the claim for intentional emotional distress is insufficiently pled because it is barred by government immunity under Government Code section 815(a).

In April 2021, the mayor’s attorney Mira Hashmall sent a 10-page letter to the Douglas/Hicks firm detailing errors in the first amended complaint and attempts to meet and confer where ignored by McDade-Dickens’ attorneys.

Butt’s attorney’s also detailed McDade-Dickens refusal to provide interrogatory response, produce documents, sit for a deposition or meet and confer on discovery.

Her attorney, Carl Douglas, has previously sent correspondence to Hashmall seeking to have her removed as the mayor’s attorney as she previously represented McDade-Dickens during the dispute between Madison Square Garden, Murphy’s Bowl LLC and the city.

McDade-Dickens’ previous attorneys negotiated a severance package of one year’s salary, which was rejected.

Douglas could not be reached for comment.

2 Urban Girls is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the Compton and Inglewood areas. She can be reached at 2urbangirls@gmail.com.

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