LOS ANGELES – The former communications officer for a labor organization has tentatively settled her lawsuit against her ex-employer, in which she maintained she was fired in 2019 for speaking out about an alleged lack of diversity within the organization.
Attorneys for Erica Zeitlin filed court papers Friday informing Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mel Red Recana of a “conditional” settlement of the plaintiff’s case against American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 36 and that a request for dismissal will be filed by July 25.
No terms were divulged.
In their court papers, AFSCME attorneys denied any wrongdoing or liability on the union’s part.
Zeitlin, 56, has worked in communications for more than 20 years, first as a reporter for newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and later as a communications specialist for political campaigns, nonprofits and unions, the suit filed in September 2020 stated.
From 2011 until her 2019 firing, Zeitlin worked as a communications officer for the labor organization, which serves and is funded by about 60 autonomous local unions in Southern California, according to the suit.
Zeitlin, an “exemplary employee” throughout her time at AFSCME 36, also is the legal guardian of her stepdaughter, who has been diagnosed with autism and needs constant supervision, the suit stated. Zeitlin’s colleagues were aware of her devotion to her stepdaughter and the constraints on her ability to work from the office and engage in extended travel, according to the suit.
Zeitlin’s stepdaughter is prone to “severe separation anxiety” due to her birth mother’s death, the suit stated. Since Zeitlin began caring for the girl, she has “taken great pains to ensure that she would be a stable presence in her stepdaughter’s life,” according to the suit.
In 2018, the new Council 36 leadership, which included three white men, disapproved of Zeitlin’s devotion to her stepdaughter’s care and her advocacy on behalf of minority members of the council, the suit stated.
At the end of 2017 and in early 2018, the longtime Council 36 president, Alice Goff, who is Black, and other senior executive leaders left the organization, the suit stated. Then, in August 2018, Adam Acosta, one of the few Latino members in AFSCME 36 leadership, was fired after nearly a quarter of a century with the organization, according to the suit.
Acosta maintained he was told an “ethnic cleansing” was needed at District Council 36, the suit stated.
Zeitlin had worked closely with Acosta, knew of his dedication and questioned the logic of his firing, the suit stated. She sent an email to AFSCME 36 leadership because she believed that from a public relations perspective, the organization now had “an optics problem.”
But the plaintiff’s legitimate concern about discrimination “was met with hateful vitriol,” the suit stated.
In September 2019, Zeitlin arrived at work and was met by the executive director, who confiscated her computers and cell phone, ordered her to take everything out her office and told her she was being suspended indefinitely for “recent actions,” although he did not specify what those actions were, according to the suit.
The executive director and an administrative assistant stood guard over Zeitlin while she cleaned out her office for at least five hours, a “humiliating experience” for the plaintiff, the suit stated.