Judge dismisses former LA official’s whistleblower retaliation lawsuit
A judge Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit brought by the former assistant general manager of the El Pueblo Historical Project, who alleged she was wrongfully fired in 2020 in retaliation for expressing concerns about violence caused by homeless residents of a nearby temporary shelter touted by Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark V. Mooney issued his ruling in Lisa Sarno’s Los Angeles Superior Court, which alleged only a single cause of action for whistleblower retaliation.
Sarno filed the suit last Sept. 8 and then brought two versions, the last one on Feb. 18. The City Attorney’s Office then moved to seek dismissal of the second revised complaint, arguing in their court papers that Sarno did not bring her legal claim against the city — a forerunner to a lawsuit — on time.
“Additionally, (Sarno) fails to plead any demonstrative facts to indicate she engaged in a protected activity,” according to the City Attorney’s Office’s court papers.
According to Sarno’s suit, she had been “extremely vocal about ongoing unlawful activities occurring at El Pueblo,” but the city “did not see Ms. Sarno’s reports of unlawful conduct as fitting the city’s stance on homelessness policy.”
Sarno was hired by the city in 1998 and in her job with the El Pueblo Historical Project, she was responsible for its budget, personnel, management and security, the suit stated. El Pueblo hosts 2 million visitors around the world annually and is the site of Olvera Street, museums, rotating art galleries and film production, according to the suit.
The city’s first homeless bridge shelter was constructed close to El Pueblo in 2018, suit stated.
“Unfortunately, the increase in homelessness contributed to an increase in violence committed by certain members of the homeless population near El Pueblo,” the suit stated.
Sarno reported the increase in violence to council member representatives and several individuals within the mayor’s office, including former Deputy Mayor Barbara Romero and Garcetti’s chief of staff, Ana Guerrero, the suit stated.
“Ms. Sarno was vocal about the increasing violence, hoping that the top leaders of the mayor’s staff would acknowledge what was happening at El Pueblo and address it with action,” the suit stated.
However, Sarno felt that there was a “concerted effort to keep the data of unlawful activity quiet in order to protect the mayor’s bridge housing program,” according to the suit.
In June 2019, Sarno emailed Garcetti’s office and council district representatives about a homeless woman who entered the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles and assaulted its executive director, Marianna Gatto, the suit stated. A year later, she also notified city officials about an assault on a 14-year-old girl and city staff by six transients during a city of Los Angeles birthday observation, the suit stated.
“It was her good-faith belief that the persons she spoke with about the increase in violence had the authority to investigate or to put a stop to the violence,” the suit states.
In January 2020, a representative from Garcetti’s office demanded that Sarno not provide security reports to David Louie, president of the El Pueblo Board of Commissioners, because the official was concerned that the number of incidents would reflect poorly on the mayor’s homeless bridge shelter project, the suit stated.
The next month, Sarno’s new general manager, Arturo Chavez, told the plaintiff she was being fired because the department was “heading in a different direction,” the suit stated.