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Hahn, Lawyer Settle Dispute Over Promotion

Agreement: Deputy city attorney gets raise she says she had been denied in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment by an office supervisor.

April 24, 1996|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A deputy Los Angeles city attorney on Tuesday won a promotion and pay increase that she claimed were denied because she filed a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor.

Ruth Ebner accused City Atty. James Hahn of retaliating against her when he rejected her request for a promotion last year.

Ebner won a $10,000 out-of-court settlement in 1993 after alleging in a complaint that her supervisor in the civil liability division made sexist remarks and grabbed himself in her presence. As part of that settlement, Ebner was voluntarily transferred to the city attorney's airports division.

Two years later, Ebner filed a separate claim against the city, alleging that she had been denied a promotion because of the previous sexual harassment complaint.

Ebner, who also is a Santa Monica City Council member, would not comment on the settlement reached Tuesday by the two sides, citing an agreement to keep the details confidential. But during an arbitration hearing Monday, Ebner testified that her supervisor at the airports division said her promotion was rejected "because of the trouble I caused downtown."

"If you complain, you get retaliated against," Ebner said in an interview. "The message is very clear. If you are harassed, you better keep your mouth shut."

Hahn testified at Monday's arbitration hearing that it was difficult deciding whom to promote because there were more applicants than available promotion slots.

Hahn said he spoke to Ebner's supervisor at the airport, Breton Lobner, and received what he considered negative feedback.

"[Lobner] said she does a pretty good job but he said she did not put in as many hours as other attorneys in the office," Hahn said of his conversation with Lobner. "She was a nine-to-fiver."

Instead of a promotion last year, Hahn granted Ebner a more modest merit pay increase of about $2,000.

This was not the first time that Ebner had been denied a promotion. Deputy City Atty. George Lomeli, who represented the city in the case, cited documents during Monday's hearing indicating that Hahn rejected Ebner's promotion request in 1990, two years before the issue of sexual harassment surfaced.

Ebner's promotion will raise her $82,000 salary by about $10,000, and increase the amount of her pension. In addition, she will now be eligible for automatic pay increases each year that she would not have received under her previous status.

Despite the settlement, Ebner's attorney, Gerald Goldman, accused the city attorney's office of failing to stem sexual harassment and create a safe environment in which to report trouble.

Goldman said that Hahn's office has yet to fully comply with a 1992 executive order issued by then-Mayor Tom Bradley that called for city departments to take all necessary steps--including discipline--to ensure a work environment free of such harassment.

"It's a good old boys network, not following the spirit and intent of the executive order," Goldman said. "It's called lip service."

Mike Qualls, a spokesman for the city attorney's office, said Hahn is taking every step to address the problems of sexual harassment.

"City Atty. Hahn takes this problem very, very seriously," Qualls said.

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