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Bias Alleged in Counsel's Office of L.A. Unified

August 21, 2003|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

Two attorneys with the Los Angeles Unified School District's office of general counsel have charged that the district discriminated against Latinos in the hiring and promotion of attorneys.

Jesus Estrada Melendez and Robert Cuen filed a complaint Wednesday with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing. They said they have concerns about the lack of diversity in their office and among its management.

Three of the 39 staff attorneys are Latino, according to the counsel's office.

In addition to staffing concerns, the two men said they are dissatisfied with their own pay and equity issues.

"We feel that the office of general counsel has missed many opportunities to promote diversity," Estrada Melendez said. "With qualified Mexican American and other Latino lawyers ... I think we can show a more productive force."

Kevin Reed, acting general counsel for the district, said that he realized that when he began his job on June 30 that "there weren't a lot of Latino faces. But I've never run into a hint of evidence that this is because anybody discriminated," he said.

About 71% of the district's nearly 800,000 students are Latino. But Reed defended his office's hiring record, citing a recent survey of public-sector legal departments that showed that Latinos made up between 6% and 9% of the attorneys on the surveyed staffs.

"The implication is that somehow that means that legally I am required to hire 75% Latino attorneys," Reed said.

"The law doesn't work that way," he said. "The relevant comparison is who applied and who was hired. And I have seen no evidence whatsoever that anything other than the appropriate thing was done during the hiring process."

Larry Trygstad, an attorney for Estrada Melendez and Cuen, said the filing with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing is a precursor to a lawsuit.

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