Current, former LADWP employees allege sexual harassment, cover-ups in new lawsuit

Several current and former employees of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power filed a lawsuit against the city and department, claiming that they were retaliated against for reporting alleged wrongdoing, including sexual harassment, covering up security breaches and more.

Three of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit shared their stories in a press conference Tuesday. All three said they were either the victim of sexual harassment, or were retaliated against for reporting instances of sexual harassment. 

Christopher Vicino, LADWP's former director of security and emergency management, said that on multiple occasions he raised security concerns to his bosses, and that not only was nothing done to fix the issues, but the department hid these concerns from federal regulators. 

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Specifically, Vicino's attorney Bradley Gage alleged that Vicino reported that the department's computer system had been breached. 

Vicino and another plaintiff, Clariza Valdovinos alleged instances of sexual harassment in the department, including from the President of the Board of Water and Power Commissioners Cynthia McClain-Hill. 

Vicino said he reported McClain-Hill for sexual harassment. Valdovinos said that she was harassed by a fellow employee, and that when an internal investigation determined she had in fact been harassed, that employee was never disciplined.

Both Vicino and Valdovinos claimed that McClain-Hill retaliated against them after they'd reported wrongdoing. 

"When I made complaints against mistreatment, Cynthia McClain Hill retaliated against me. She ridiculed me. She discussed the way I dress," Valdovinos said. "And I was reprimanded for taking a preapproved day off on my birthday. Cynthia McClain-Hill stated that she did not want to know about complaints in her office. I was surprised because if we cannot report wrongdoing, how will things get fixed?"

Vicino alleged he was fired because of his reports. 

Arlene Rodriguez, the executive assistant to the general manager at LADWP, was the third plaintiff who spoke at Tuesday's press conference. She said that McClain-Hill and the LADWP Board have abused their positions to award department contracts in exchange for favors, a crime for which the former LADWP General Manager David H. Wright was sentenced to six years in prison for in April 2022.

"Our former GM was convicted of manipulating DWP procurement processes to award sole-source contracts in exchange for favors," Rodriguez said. "This suit alleges that this board, under McClain-Hill's leadership, continues to steer sole source contracts to friends and political allies in violation of city contracting rules." 

Rodriguez said that not only was nothing done, but that some of the people involved in her reports were "rewarded" with promotions.

Rodriguez also alleged that she'd been sexually harassed and that her reports were ignored.

According to Vicino's attorney, the claims of wrongdoing have only touched the surface. 

"We expect to see significant further developments in this case to show other allegations of wrongdoing in connection with contracts, in connection with power rates, in connection with what each of us has to pay as consumers," said Gage. "And this is a case that we intend to pursue, to go after all those who have alleged wrongdoing against them, even if they're at the top of the department or the top of the city of Los Angeles."

In a statement to FOX 11, the LADWP said that "while we cannot comment on pending litigation involving employment matters, Board President McClain-Hill denies the misuse of any ratepayer funds. In the circumstance mentioned in the litigation, she was advised that the appropriate course of action to avoid taking an impermissible gift of meals while attending a business-related conference in her capacity as Board President was to submit for reimbursement by LADWP."