LOS ANGELES – A judge has granted $1 million in attorneys’ fees to a Black former Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services employee who maintained she suffered a backlash for speaking out against racial segregation in the workplace.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jon R. Takasugi’s award was less than half the $3.7 million sought by plaintiff Lorna Young’s lawyers. Young was entitled to the fees based on a jury’s Oct. 27 award to her of $3.5 million in compensatory damages after finding in the plaintiff’s favor on her two causes of action for retaliation.
“While a review of billing records indicates mostly reasonable billings, there is still evidence of padding, unnecessary billings and duplicative work,” Takasugi wrote.
Lawyers for the county argued in their trial court papers that actions taken by the DPSS in connection with Young’s employment were for legitimate business reasons with no intention to retaliate. Regarding the attorneys’ fees, the county lawyers maintained Young deserved no more than just under $1.1 million.
Young worked for the county for nearly two decades, most recently as a DPSS eligibility worker, the suit stated. In 2012, the director of the Southwest Family District where Young worked purposely racially segregated employees, with one unit for Latino employees and the other for Blacks, the suit alleged.
Young complained about the racially segregated units on multiple occasions, saying they caused unrest among employees and caused a heavier distribution of the workload to Black workers, according to the suit. The director acknowledged the problem, but left before he could do anything about it, the suit stated.
The new director refused to meet with Young or to desegregate the work units, the suit stated.
Young went to the Board of Supervisors with her fellow union steward to complain about her workplace conditions, but the board members did not address her concerns, the suit stated.
Young began experiencing retaliation for complaining about the segregation, including a 30-day suspension amid accusations that she had been “combative” and “hostile” while she and others went to the director’s office to protest the alleged segregation, according to the suit.
Young was transferred to another office, where she was forced to sit under a vent, causing her to contract bronchitis, the suit states.
“Young realized that the working conditions were not going to improve and in August 2014 she was forced to resign,” the suit stated.
Young applied for reinstatement with the county the next year and was denied, according to the suit.