In an unusual move, Glendale officials have stopped their own investigation and asked a Los Angeles law firm specializing in labor relations to look into the merits of a $10-million discrimination claim filed against the city by an Orthodox Jewish fireman.
The action was taken at the request of Fire Department officials, some of whom would have been involved in investigating the claim, according to Assistant City Atty. Dennis Schuck.
"We would feel more comfortable with an outside firm doing it," said Schuck, who also would have been involved. "No matter how objective you think you are, someone could accuse you of not being objective."
The law firm of Liebert, Cassidy & Frierson is expected to make a recommendation to the city within 60 days in the case of fireman Michael Pomeranz, who claims he was forced to give up his job as a firefighter last fall and become a non-uniformed inspector because his superiors made it difficult for him to observe the Sabbath and to wear his yarmulke while on duty.
After the firm presents its findings, the city manager and council will decide whether to offer some compensation or dismiss the claim and face a probable court fight.
Schuck, who has worked in the city attorney's office 13 years, said he could recall no other claim handed over to an outside firm for investigation. But he added that he knew of no previous case involving so many city employees. He said about 20 will be interviewed.
Mickey J. Wheatley, Pomeranz's attorney, warmly greeted the news about the investigation. "I think it's a positive development for my client and for the city," he said.
In his claim filed in January, Pomeranz, 33, a five-year veteran of the force, also alleged that co-workers and managers mocked his religious beliefs and caused him such mental anguish that he sought psychiatric care.
The city, however, says the job switch was made to help Pomeranz observe his religion while meeting the department's manpower needs.
Meanwhile, Pomeranz's future with the Fire Department remains uncertain. Pomeranz took a two-week medical leave in January because of what he claimed was mental stress caused by his fight with the city. He returned to work, but city officials then demanded that he obtain clearance from a city-appointed psychiatrist. Pomeranz refused, saying he did not trust a city psychiatrist and asked that he be allowed to choose a doctor. The city refused that and in May placed Pomeranz back on sick leave. Pomeranz then filed another claim against the city, demanding reinstatement and back pay.
At Wheatley's request, the unpaid sick leave has been extended through July 10. If Pomeranz does not consent to the city's psychiatric examination by then, he may be considered absent without leave and could be fired, Schuck said.
In a separate case, Los Angeles attorney and Latino activist Herman Sillas was hired by the city to investigate charges of racism in the Glendale Police Department arising from a trial in which a Latino officer successfully claimed that he was passed over for promotion in favor of less-qualified whites.