Woman Reinstated as LA County Fire Department Electrician Following Sexual Harassment, Discrimination Claims - NBC Southern California
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Woman Reinstated as LA County Fire Department Electrician Following Sexual Harassment, Discrimination Claims

"She fought four years, with zero pay, zero medical, zero everything for the cause."

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Only Woman Electrician in LA County Fire Declares "Me Too"

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    The only woman working as a full time electrician for the LA County Fire Department is declaring #MeToo.

    Maggie Rucker told NBC4 after decades of filing sexual harassment and discrimination complaints she was fired as retaliation for speaking out. Her wrongful termination has since been reversed and she's now been reinstated, but LA County taxpayers are paying the price.

    LA County has spent over $250,000 during the process of firing Rucker who is already at retirement age after working for the county for 30 years.

    In 2014, LA County paid a law firm over $224,000 to litigate her termination and appeal, according to records obtained by NBC4. They spent another $28,000 in manhours and overtime investigating the then 63-year-old before firing her after three decades on the job.

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    "Things were going on that the men could get away with, yet I was being scrutinized because I was a female," Rucker said.

    She said her firing was retaliation for filing complaints of sexual harassment. Complaints about male coworkers she made over the years regarding names she was called, things she was told to do and behavior she witnessed (like men urinating in front of her at the office) were largely ignored.

    "They just kind of said what they wanted and did what they wanted," she said of her male coworkers.

    She thought working for the fire department was a step toward job equality. Rucker had worked as an electrician for the county for years before wearing the LACoFD uniform.

    "It's a hard job. It's a dirty job."

    In 1996, Rucker received an apology letter from a former board supervisor because her harassment complaints went unanswered.

    "I know how difficult these past few months must have been, ..." an excerpt from the letter read.

    Rucker's complaints would eventually shape LA County's policy for investigating sexual harassment.

    But, by 2014, Rucker said the county had grown tired of her complaints. She was investigated and fired for misusing her county truck by parking it at her home from time to time, misappropriating or stealing work materials, not reporting a side job and using her county employment for personal gain.

    "What's easier ... firing one woman in the whole county department or disciplining 3,000 guys on how to treat women and how to control sexual harassment?" Rucker said. 

    For four years, she's been fighting her termination and in Jan. 2017, the now 67-year-old won reinstatement.

    The hearing officer noted that regarding her county vehicle, she should not have been fired for "failing to adhere to a policy the department largely ignored."

    Male coworkers accused of the same violation were not fired, according to the report.

    The theft allegation amounts to her refurbishing "discarded materials from a trash bin." Her failure to report her side job -- Maggie's Electric -- was a technical violation. She hadn't worked enough hours or earned enough income to warrant disclosure and she never used her county employment for personal gain.

    "I decided I will not run from something that I never did wrong," Rucker said.

    In a letter from Feb. 2018, the fire department said they were working on reinstating her. That took another eight months.

    NBC4 was there for her first day back.

    Anthony Lindheimer is Rucker's new supervisor. As a former coworker, he said he personally knew the things she's endured and her reinstatement is justice.

    "She's been through a lot ... the truth always prevails," Lindheimer said.

    He added a women's restroom to the office. The separate restrooms represent change for Rucker. There's another woman working part-time in the department now and she hopes future generations of women working in the construction trades understand the path she has paved.

    "She fought four years, with zero pay, zero medical, zero everything for the cause," Rucker said of her battle for equality.

    NBC4 reached out to several LA County officials regarding Rucker's firing and reinstatement, but nobody would comment on the matter.

    However, LA County released a statement that says in part: "The Civil Service Commission hearing officer made clear that his findings should not be interpreted to mean that Ms. Rucker was discriminated or retaliated against by the Fire Department...We respect the decision of the Civil service commission to reinstate Ms. Rucker."

    LA County has been ordered to pay back wages and other benefits Rucker lost out on during the 4-year-long legal battle. Rucker is owed around 300,000 in salary alone, according to her attorney.

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