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Mechanic Disputes His Firing by Culver City Over Harassment Claim

November 17, 1994|MARY MOORE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The former chief mechanic of the Culver City Fire Department, who was fired from his job in July following allegations of sexual harassment and bigotry, has appealed to the city's Civil Service Commission to be reinstated.

Bob Lewis, 51, contends that he was terminated unjustly, and his appeal is being considered in ongoing hearings--made public at Lewis' request--that began in October and are scheduled through the end of this month.

Lewis' attorney, Phil Tangalakis, has set out to prove that Lewis was fired because he revealed alleged improprieties in a city maintenance contract. Lewis has alleged that Culver City overpaid for the maintenance of city police vehicles by sending them to a repair shop owned by a friend of the city's chief administrative officer, Jody Hall-Esser, and her husband.

Hall-Esser said she and her husband are good friends with Bob Fox, owner of Performance Unlimited, and that he was the best man at their wedding. But Hall-Esser, who is scheduled to testify before the commission later this month, said their relationship had nothing to do with the firing of Lewis.

"I have never involved myself inappropriately in this process, but I have lived up to my responsibility to make sure that the process was being carried out," Hall-Esser said. "I believe that this is happening at least in part or totally because there is no other defense (for Lewis)."

Lewis was fired after Eva Lopez, a cadet in the Culver City Fire Department, charged that Lewis made derogatory racial and sexual comments in her presence. She filed a complaint with the city in May and a lawsuit in Santa Monica Superior Court in August.

In her suit, Lopez alleges that in addition to making derogatory statements about Mexicans, Lewis repeatedly discussed his sexual encounters and sexual fantasies with her. The suit also charged that Lewis falsely told another Fire Department employee that he had had sex with Lopez.

But witnesses called before the Civil Service Commission on behalf of Lewis told a different story.

"He was never discriminatory," said Jerry Mosley, who worked in the Culver City Fire Department and now is with the Long Beach Fire Department. "He was very fair, very honest. He was a good role model."

The city and Michael Olson, who was Culver City fire chief at the time, are also named in the suit. Lopez is seeking compensation for emotional distress and an order from the court mandating that Culver City increase its employees' sensitivity training in issues of sex and national origin.

Tangalakis said he believes Hall-Esser had a vendetta against Lewis, who had revealed that the city was in some cases paying twice as much as it should for police car repairs and parts. Performance Unlimited eventually lost the maintenance account.

Michael Leb, Lopez's attorney, called that case irrelevant and said the commission's decision should be based solely on the alleged incidents against Lopez.

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