A longtime Los Angeles Unified Office of General Counsel attorney who complained that Latinos were discriminated against in hirings and promotions suffered a backlash seven years later when he was denied a prestigious position that was given to a less-qualified applicant, an attorney told a jury Thursday.
“This case is about retaliation,” lawyer Toni Jaramilla said during her opening statement in trial of Jesus Estrada Melendez’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit against the nation’s second-largest school district.
But LAUSD lawyer Linda Miller Savitt said no retaliation occurred and that Melendez was not as qualified as Janalyn W. Glymph, who was selected over the plaintiff for the post of personnel director.
“This case is about disappointment,” Savitt said, adding that Melendez and Glymph were among five finalists for the job and Melendez was rated the third best.
In a case that received media coverage in 2003, Melendez, who joined the LAUSD in 1984, and attorney Robert Cuen filed a complaint with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, expressing concern about the lack of diversity in their office and among its management. Three of the 39 staff attorneys at the time were Latinos, according to the counsel’s office.
The personnel director oversees all departments within the Personnel Commission, including recruitment and selection, classification and compensation, employment assignments and transactions, appeals and staff development. Jaramilla told jurors that although Melendez was the most qualified applicant, he was ready to move on after he was denied the position until he learned that the selection process was allegedly tainted.
According to Jaramilla, a background report prepared for the Personnel Commission before they made their selection contained copies of Melendez’s DFEH complaint and the accompanying news coverage was flagged by the Office of Inspector General and labeled as a “significant issue.”
“Imagine how he felt,” Jaramilla said of Melendez.
But Savitt the decision-makers actually never saw the report and that all of them had a pro-employee background, meaning it would not have swayed them against Melendez even if they knew about it.
Savitt said Melendez competed in a competitive selection process and is now unhappy that he did not get the job or a salary higher than the $170,000 he currently earns.
“He has a very good job,” Savitt said.
Melendez, now 71, grew up in Los Angeles as the son of a garment worker and received scholarships to USC and later to USC’s law school, Jaramilla said.
“His consciousness of social justice was awakening,” Jaramilla said of Melendez’s years as a young adult.
For more legal/crime news, authorities identified a body found in Sun Valley.