Seven years ago, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power spent $3.3 million settling employee accusations that the utility had condoned racial discrimination -- and interfered in efforts to investigate those complaints.
The allegations prompted the DWP to hire an outside law firm, which concluded that one high-level official, then-Assistant General Manager Raman Raj, had shielded union employees from disciplinary action and discouraged employee complaints. The firm recommended that he leave for the good of the agency.
Raj was forced out three months later. But with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently installing new leadership at the DWP, Raj, 58, returned in December as the utility's No. 2 official, running the department while General Manager H. David Nahai travels to Israel with the mayor.
In an interview with The Times, Raj called the report a "charade," saying it was produced purely to allow his bosses to justify his removal. Raj said he left the DWP in August 2001 not because of the discrimination cases but because a representative of then-Mayor James K. Hahn thought he was too close to Villaraigosa, who had just lost his bid for mayor.
"That somebody would even suggest that I would want to control or condone discrimination, it just makes me very upset," he said. "It's just absolute nonsense."
The confidential report on Raj, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, was commissioned in the final months of the Riordan administration, before the runoff election between Hahn and Villaraigosa.
Produced by the Texas law firm of Kemp Smith, the report concluded that Raj moved the utility's anti-discrimination office from a satellite building -- valued for providing a level of anonymity -- into DWP headquarters to discourage complaints, since anyone who entered would have to do so in public view.
The report also said Raj manipulated severance packages to remove managers who disagreed with him. And it warned that Raj had given "too much influence in management of the organization" to Brian D'Arcy, head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 -- which represents DWP workers.
"This cannot be healthy for the organization over the long run," wrote Kemp Smith lawyer Michael McQueen, who interviewed Raj and 24 others.
City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who heads the council's Energy and Environment Committee, voiced concern over the report's assertion that Raj's actions could have compromised confidentiality for employees seeking to report discrimination.
"If this report is accurate, the department hasn't been fully forthcoming from a historical perspective about this individual," she said in an interview.
The questions about Raj's history come weeks after he and Nahai created a new executive team at the utility. Since Villaraigosa moved Nahai from the DWP Commission to the agency's top job, four DWP officials have left abruptly with severance packages, including onetime Assistant General Manager Henry Martinez, who received $184,000 and now works for Southern California Edison.
One newcomer is former Democratic Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez, who will earn $12,500 per month as a special advisor to Nahai, even as the Studio City resident draws $130,000 annually from a state post.
D'Arcy, who heads the DWP's primary employee union, did not return a call seeking comment about Raj. But former DWP General Manager David Wiggs, who commissioned the outside report, said in a brief interview that he forced Raj out so Wiggs could assemble his own team.
The report prepared for Wiggs was considerably harsher, warning that Raj could not be trusted to "act in the department's interests when they may conflict with his own agenda." McQueen wrote that Raj had intervened in disciplinary cases on the grounds that the process had not been consistently followed, yet failed to show that he had tried to improve the disciplinary process or draw a line to discourage future misdeeds.
"He did not mention doing any of this to me, but simply stated that the disciplines were halted because of poor documentation or inconsistent precedent," McQueen wrote. "This does not make sense and, once again, makes me question Mr. Raj's credibility on the subject."
Raj served at the DWP from 1999 to 2001, holding the title of assistant general manager and overseeing such issues as human resources and labor relations.
During his final months on the job, the utility paid $2 million to settle a lawsuit filed by two men who alleged that they had been harassed and retaliated against as employees because their wives were African American.
DWP workers Augustine Serna and Kenneth Carter said in their lawsuit that their white supervisors had given the most coveted assignments to white co-workers and used racial epithets to describe black co-workers. The two men also described situations in which female employees had faced intimidation and harassment.
Carter and Serna alleged they were denied overtime hours after they began cooperating with investigators.