A former county firefighter-mechanic was awarded nearly $400K in a sexual harassment lawsuit. The lawsuit arose when he was fired for testifying in a sexual harassment investigation. This was consider sexual harassment related retaliation.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury found in favor of 50-year-old Acton resident Donald Rakisits, who was awarded a total of $389,945, most of it for future lost wages.
The plaintiff, who filed his lawsuit in August 2009, joined the Los Angeles County Fire Department in August 2001 as a fire equipment mechanic assigned to the North County Fire Shop in Lancaster and was promoted in November 2007 to assistant chief of fleet services in the same location.
The plaintiff said he is proud of his work with the county and believes the lawsuit was necessary in order to present the truth. Rakisits, who now works for the Antelope Valley Transit Authority, said some of the defense witnesses misrepresented what really happened.
Rakisits testified in 2006 against mechanic Grant DeRose, who was accused of sexual harassment by a department secretary. DeRose was later fired, and Rakisits maintained that his supervisor, Craig Weeks, and others retaliated against him with false allegations of time card fraud and poor behavior.
Rakisits alleged that Chris Burroso, a fire equipment mechanic, threatened him in June 2008 by saying, "All I have to do is take a bar and hit Don over the head and kill him and the problem will be gone."
Rakisits maintains he was transferred to another county fire shop in East Los Angeles in a further act of retaliation, forcing him to daily drive 65 miles to work. He says the collective alleged harassment forced him to quit his job.
But former Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief P. Michael Freeman testified he repeatedly told the plaintiff during a Feb. 6, 2009, meeting that he could remain on the job even after Rakisits said in an an email that he planned to leave.
Rakisits could have withdrawn his resignation, Freeman testified.
According to the county's court papers, DeRose before being fired made numerous complaints against Rakisits, alleging he worked on his personal car while on duty, stole tools, used racial slurs and took county vehicles on personal trips.
Burroso alleged Rakisits committed time card fraud on behalf of another mechanic, the county's court papers state.
Another case of a legal battle and pain and suffering that could easily have been avoided. Maybe sexual harassment training in this situation could have helped. Especially if it helped people become compliant with california AB-1825 rules.