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Fired Lawyer Takes On City, Wins

A former prosecutor in the L.A. city attorney's office said she was harassed after reporting misconduct. She is awarded $1.5 million.

April 06, 2006|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

A jury Wednesday awarded more than $1.5 million to a former Los Angeles prosecutor who said City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and other supervisors retaliated against her for reporting mistakes and misconduct by other attorneys.

In addition to the award of $1,525,938 to Lynn Magnandonovan, the city could also be on the hook for her legal fees, which are expected to exceed $2 million, said Samuel J. Wells, one of her attorneys.

"This was an indictment of the city attorney's office," he said. "The jury didn't believe the city witnesses when they said they didn't retaliate against this woman."

Although a judge removed Delgadillo as a defendant because of government immunity, Wells said the retaliatory acts included Delgadillo's signing a termination memo against Magnandonovan that was based on meritless allegations.

A spokesman for Delgadillo, who is running for state attorney general, said the office is considering whether to appeal.

"We are disappointed in the verdict and will be reviewing our options," spokesman Jonathan Diamond said.

Because the lawsuit included actions by Delgadillo, there was a conflict of interest in having his office mount the defense, so a private law firm, Baker & Hostetler, was given a $1.5-million contract to defend the city.

The entire Los Angeles bench was also disqualified, so the case was heard by a jury in Santa Ana.

Magnandonovan, 55, worked for the city attorney's office 13 years. She said that supervisors retaliated against her for filing a state discrimination complaint and that they allowed "an environment offensive and hostile to females," according to the lawsuit.

She said that in 1999, when James K. Hahn was city attorney, she saw that one of her female colleagues filed a felony case as a misdemeanor. After the U.S. attorney took over the case and filed it as a felony, Magnandonovan said, she received a "vitriolic" voicemail message from the colleague accusing her of "badmouthing" the woman to federal prosecutors.

The colleague "threatened Magnandonovan professionally" and threatened to file a lawsuit against her, the suit said.

After Magnandonovan reported the alleged threats to supervisors, no action was taken, which she interpreted as a sign that a male supervisor viewed the alleged threats "as some type of 'cat fight' between women and, thus, relatively unimportant," the lawsuit says.

The colleague was later named Magnandonovan's supervisor.

Magnandonovan filed a sex discrimination complaint with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and a settlement was reached in which Hahn agreed to appoint her as supervisor of the city attorney's hate crimes unit.

Magnandonovan said she suffered more retaliation when supervisors refused to allow her to function as head of the unit and attend supervisors' meetings.

In December 2001, after Delgadillo took office, Magnandonovan's supervisors put her on administrative leave, and in 2002 they fired her.

"They said she was unprofessional, that she was disrespectful to the court, that she was late to court, that she couldn't get along with co-workers," Wells said.

A turning point in the case came when the former chief deputy city attorney said Magnandonovan had refused to be interviewed about her grievance while on leave, but was then shown a letter that one of her attorneys sent at the time saying she was willing to be interviewed.

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