For two weeks, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury listened to testimony about LADWP managers in the Owens Valley and allegations by a long-time employee that his superiors had mistreated him due to his physical disability, his Native American race and had retaliated against him after he “blew the whistle” against management for misappropriation of City funds for personal gain. The employee alleged that management caused him physical injury and severe emotional distress. The jury found only that the LADWP did intentionally cause the employee severe emotional distress, according to his attorney
When contacted about this case, Woodland Hills employment civil rights attorney David Peter Cwiklo said the LADWP managers forced his client, Joaquin Miguel Balassa, to go beyond his known work restrictions, his physical disability, because they wanted to force him to quit his LADWP career. Balassa was employed as the Alabama Gates Aqueduct and Reservoir Keeper. Cwiklo said that after his client was told to perform heavy manual labor beyond his known work restrictions, that managers knew would intentionally injure Balassa, Balassa’s supervisors told him to perform the work and get injured or he would be fired for insubordination.
Cwiklo explained Balassa had suffered a physical disability but continued to work under agreed upon work restrictions that included no manual labor or lifting. The attorney said Balassa’s supervisors forced him to repeatedly lift 100-pound sand bags, to build a 30′ sand bag wall in the Alabama Gates overflow over a 4-hour period, in violation of his known work restrictions. Balassa reportedly suffered a physical injury that aggravated his prior physical disability and was forced to leave the DWP. During trial, Balassa presented witness testimony that managers similarly mistreated other DWP employees with reported physical disabilities.
Cwiklo said that DWP Aqueduct Manager Gene Coufal denied knowledge about Balassa’s mistreatment. Supervisors Richard Mayfield and Michael Daughtry were named as individual defendants in the suit. Balassa further alleged he filed formal written complaints against City managers who he said bought personal equipment, including a John Deere tractor, using City funds designated for projects that managers never initiated or completed. Cwiklo also claimed that individual managers charged the DWP for a bogus $100,000 overtime for work that was never performed. Cwiklo said Balassa presented witness testimony that DWP managers were ordered to deliver DWP construction materials and equipment to the personal residences of City managers, who allegedly used DWP labor to perform remodeling projects on their personal residences.
Cwiklo said Balassa testified that City managers offered him a bribe of $100,000 bogus overtime to “keep silent,” that he should “just play ball,” that these sorts of activities had been going on for generations in the Owens Valley. Cwiklo said Balassa refused. Cwiklo added that Balassa testified that both Mayfield and his brother-in-law Daughtry participated in illegal retaliation against him after he filed his formal complaints with various City agencies, including the LA City Controller’s office. Testimony at trial did include the City Controller’s investigation of Balassa’s allegations, which they deemed were not sufficiently substantiated.
The jury did not find that the DWP defendants mistreated Balassa because of his physical disability or Native American race, nor retaliated against him for blowing the whistle. However, the jury did find that the DWP and Mayfield acted intentionally to cause Balassa severe and extreme emotional distress, according to Cwiklo. The jury awarded Balassa with a $190,000 verdict. As the prevailing party, Cwiklo intends to seek recovery of the attorney’s fees and costs incurred in presenting this case to the Los Angeles Superior Court jury, a figure he says will likely triple the jury’s verdict.
We placed a call to DWP for comments on their side of this case. They chose to make none.