Los Angeles County Assessor John J. Lynch, who took office less than a year ago, was accused Wednesday of assaulting one of his employees and threatening to fire him during a heated dispute over the worker's union activities.
Frank Dominguez, a 15-year employee of the assessor's office and a director of Local 660 of the Service Employees International Union, charged that Lynch "physically assaulted" him last month by angrily grabbing his arm during a confrontation at the Hall of Administration.
In a complaint to the county Civil Service Commission, Dominguez said Lynch became upset at finding him away from the assessor's office despite the fact that Dominguez had been granted permission to spend the day as a member of the union team negotiating a new contract.
After Lynch demanded to know why Dominguez was absent from his job, he allegedly denounced Dominguez's union activities and tried to prevent the employee from walking away by grabbing Dominguez in "a rough and offensive manner," according to the formal complaint.
The Oct. 2 incident spilled over from a confrontation the day before when Lynch had attacked him verbally, Dominguez said.
As part of a written response from the assessor's office, Lynch denied that he ever assaulted or physically restrained Dominguez and claimed that he "touched Mr. Dominguez's arm with his open right hand only as a means of attracting his attention."
But despite the department's efforts to dismiss the complaint, the Civil Service Commission voted 3-1 on Wednesday to allow a hearing examiner to review the case.
The commission's decision thrusts the assessor's office and its chief into a rare spotlight. Since Lynch took office in December after years as a low-level assessor's appraiser, he has attracted little notice except for an occasional spat with county auditors.
But the accusations against him are considered unusual in the county, even given the normal labor-management conflicts.
"I've been working for the commission since 1979, and we've never had a complaint like this where a department head is accused of assaulting an employee," said Gene A. Pomeroy, executive officer of the Civil Service Commission. "It's very rare."
Lynch was in Yosemite on Wednesday attending a meeting of county assessors, but his chief deputy, Jack MacLean, said there will be no comment beyond the department's written response.
Also at the county Civil Service Commission on Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Chicano Employee's Assn. charged that Marshal's Deputy Ronald S. Rocha, 42, has been repeatedly bypassed for promotion to sergeant because of "systematic" racial discrimination by the county marshal's office.
"It ought to be called 'The White House' over there," attorney Reese Lloyd--who also represented Dominguez--told members of the commission. "It's an old boys' club . . . a buddy system. . . ."
Lloyd pointed out that in a recent "appraisal of promotability" evaluation by the marshal's office, Rocha received a rating of 100, "the highest possible score."
While others have advanced, Lloyd said, "not a single" Latino has been promoted to a command position in the 740-member marshal's office in recent months.
Luis M. Najera, a lieutenant with the marshal's office who represented the department at Wednesday's meeting, replied that Rocha was one of eight officers who received a score of 100 during the recent ratings.
"Obviously, he's done a fine job," Najera said. "But . . . his experience has been limited to court assignments. . . . Others with more diversified backgrounds have been more qualified."
The commission, ruling, in effect, that there was sufficient cause for a prima facie case of discrimination to warrant hearing evidence, granted Lloyd's request for a hearing. The hearing probably will be scheduled within 30 days.