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Ex-aide to Councilman Mitchell Englander files harassment suit

A woman alleges that a top aide to Englander repeatedly made sexual comments and that such comments were 'rampant' in the office. A spokeswoman denies the allegations.

October 18, 2013|By David Zahniser
  • L.A. City Councilman Mitchell Englander is shown. A former staffer says Englander ignored her complaints and made improper remarks when she expressed interest in working on public safety issues.
L.A. City Councilman Mitchell Englander is shown. A former staffer says… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

Another political aide at Los Angeles City Hall has filed a harassment lawsuit, this time targeting the office of Councilman Mitchell Englander in the San Fernando Valley.

A former Englander staffer, who identified herself as Jane Doe in her filing, alleges that a top aide to the councilman repeatedly made inappropriate jokes and sexual comments. She claimed such comments were "rampant" in the lawmaker's office and included improper remarks from the councilman himself.

The lawsuit is the second to offer allegations of harassment within a council office in recent weeks. On Thursday, a lawsuit was filed by a former aide to Councilman Jose Huizar, who accused her former boss of waging a campaign of sexual harassment and retaliation against her.

In the case targeting Englander's office, the unnamed staffer accused John Lee, the councilman's chief of staff, of asking her about her sex life and making crude remarks about her older boyfriend's sexual abilities. She said Englander ignored her complaints and, at one point, made improper remarks when she expressed an interest in working on public safety issues.

Englander "questioned whether [the staffer] only wanted to be a public safety deputy so she could walk into the fire stations and be naked in front of the male firefighters," the lawsuit said.

Stephanie Saporito, Englander's spokeswoman, said the lawsuit's allegations were untrue. She released a statement from the councilman saying he wasn't aware of the alleged improper conduct until the lawsuit was filed. "The first I heard of these allegations was when I learned about this lawsuit, which is surprising because my office has always had a system in place where any situation like this would immediately surface and be dealt with," Englander said in the statement.

Lee has worked for both Englander and his predecessor, former Councilman Greig Smith, both of whom have represented portions of the West Valley. He's paid $170,840 a year, according to the city's personnel department.

The harassment claims have arisen at a time when critics have noted that all but one of the city's 18 elected officials are men. In the Huizar case, former Deputy Chief of Staff Francine Godoy accused her former boss of cutting back her workload and forcing her to work at home after she refused specific sexual advances. Huizar, who is married, said he did not engage in harassment but did have an "occasional and consensual relationship" with Godoy.

The lawsuit involving Englander's office was filed last month. It alleges that the misconduct occurred between Feb. 13, 2012, and April 19 of this year — the time that she was a staffer in the council office.

The plaintiff alleges that on one occasion she caught a co-worker looking up her skirt as she walked up a flight of stairs. Instead of reprimanding the employee, Lee, the chief of staff, "broke out in laughter," the lawsuit states.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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