Former Council Deputy Ian Owens to Get $500k in Settlement of Suit Against the City

Former West Hollywood City Council deputy Ian Owens will receive $500,000 in the settlement of a lawsuit that he filed in May against the city and Councilmember John Duran, for whom he worked.

The settlement was released by the city today. The settlement specifically says that neither the City of West Hollywood nor Duran concede that any allegations made by Owens are true.  City Attorney Mike Jenkins said an independent investigation of the matter commissioned by the city  found no evidence that Duran engaged in sexual harassment, as Owens had alleged.

Jenkins said the decision to settle the case wasn’t easy.  “It puts the city in a tough spot,” he said, acknowledging that some people will assume the city settled because Owens could make a strong case.  In fact, Jenkins said, the city participates in an insurance pool and was pressured by that organization to settle as the cost of the litigation grew.

In his suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Owens alleged that he was wrongfully suspended on false allegations of spying on a colleague when he was actually trying to report unlawful activity by her. Owens also alleged that Duran sexually harassed him instead of helping him get the city to investigate the purported illegal activity. Publicity about those allegations focused local residents on a variety of problems with the 30-year-old deputy system that some labeled “Deputygate.”

Former West Hollywood City Council Deputy Ian Owens, left, with Councilmember John Duran (Facebook)
Former West Hollywood City Council Deputy Ian Owens, left, with Councilmember John Duran (Facebook)

In the deputy system, each Council member got to hire his or her own personal assistant with compensation, including benefits, that ranged as high as $200,000 a year. Residents and City Hall staffers complained that some deputies worked as political operatives for their bosses, some didn’t work regular hours and some interfered with the work of other city employees. The third floor area of City Hall where the deputies were housed was known for its hostile atmosphere in which some deputies would not speak to one another. The Council, prompted by Mayor Lindsey Horvath, eliminated the system in June.

In his suit, Owens claims he was the victim of retaliation for reporting alleged misconduct and that Duran harassed him instead of helping him get city officials to act on his allegation. Owens was placed on administrative leave in January 2015 after the city launched an investigation into allegations that he had bugged the office of Fran Solomon, an aide to Councilmember John Heilman, and emailed a chronicle of her private conversations under a fake name to local journalists and residents. Later Owens was allowed to return to work while an investigation into the allegations continued and until the deputy system was eliminated.

In his lawsuit, Owens stated that he did nothing wrong in taking notes about Solomon’s telephone conversations, which he said he heard “through the walls” because Solomon’s office was next to his. “Importantly, at no time did Mr. Owens ever record any conversations of anyone at City Hall or otherwise break any laws,” the suit claimed.

The conversations Owens overheard led him to believe Solomon was involved in “illegal electioneering and fundraising,” according to the suit. Owens was known to be a close friend of Michelle Rex, the deputy to Councilmember John D’Amico. Rex and Solomon did not speak to one another. And D’Amico frequently and publicly has expressed his dislike for Heilman and worked for his defeat in the March 3 City Council election.

Owens began working as Duran’s deputy in August 2012. His suit alleged Duran “made sexual advances and/or sexually suggestive comments to Mr. Owens well over 100 times” and that Duran failed to protect him against the city’s alleged retaliation for his email about Solomon. Duran has admitted to WEHOville that he first met Owens through Grindr, a gay hookup app, and had sex with him. However Duran said that he didn’t have sex with Owens, or solicit sex from him, after hiring him.

The money paid to Owens will come from the Employment Risk Management Authority, a statewide risk sharing pool that provides employment practices liability coverage to government agencies, and the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority, which also provides liability insurance. Owens’ payout may not be as large as it seems. While the details of his contract with his lawyer are not known, many attorneys handle such suits on a contingency basis, taking 33% to 40% of the money awarded.  In addition, Owens will have to pay taxes on the total award amount.

Owens must agree not to pursue any claims to be returned to his job or otherwise apply for a job with the City of West Hollywood or to be retained by the city as a contractor.

Two other former deputies have made claims against the City of West Hollywood, although they have not as yet filed lawsuits. Michelle Rex has filed a claim with the city for an unspecified amount of damages because of the elimination of her position. Fran Solomon has filed a claim against the city alleging that she was the victim of bullying, harassment, intimidation and defamation by Councilmember John D’Amico and other Council deputies.


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Greenie
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Greenie

How would I live and breath without you ‘Boris the Democrat.’ HA! You have missed the point. Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Steve will never learn but voter’s have.

Alan Strasburg
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Alan Strasburg

What a sad joke Duran has made of city governance. The insurance carrier clearly pushed for a settlement knowing that a trial could result in a much higher award, that’s how insurance companies work. Duran needs to finally be an honorable person and step down with some grace and dignity.

Boris the Democrat
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Boris the Democrat

Grennie, Steve Martin’s past alleged issues have nothing to do with the discussion here, which is about “Deputygate”. The only thing I would clarify in what Steve wrote is rather than Duran anticipating a “deputy with benefits”, perhaps a better way would put it would be a horny “Councilmember with benefits”. And I would add that the City is quick to state that “no wrongdoing was admitted” by either side as part of the settlement, but a normal settlement with no wrongdoing might be $5,000 or $10,000. A $500,000 settlement leads me to believe there was a lot of wrongdoing… Read more »

Dieseljmm
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Dieseljmm

BTW folks – $500k is not the only cost here? Please note in the 3rd paragraph of the story – “…as the cost of the litigation grew.” What is not disclosed are those costs – both outside counsel (if used) and internal city costs (distraction, etc.+++)….. the $500k MAY be only part of the costs the City incurs (whether paid by insurance or not – as anyone with any business experience knows this cost will at some point be passed on to the Insured – meaning the citizens of West Hollywood at some point….)

Greenie
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Greenie

Steve Martin assumes hers say as fact. Don’t forget Steve, the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) for illegally funneling campaign contributions to political campaigns that you were officially cited for violation state campaign finance laws (Case #02/828).

Steve you were also accused by a local community group of illegally using their organization’s logo and fabricating a quote from their executive director to falsely imply that he had been endorsed by the group. Mislead voters much? Rings of hypocrisy!

Steve Martin
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Steve Martin

Campaigning at City Hall is not appropriate even if it “just” calling folks to come to a Heilman photo shoot. I am sure that was just the tip of the iceberg. $500 is about right for a non-physical hostile work environment claim; I doubt if Ian would have done better at trial. But the settlement is certainly not nuisance value. None of this would have happened had Duran done the legally correct and professional thing and informed Human Resources and the City Manager about his relationship with Own prior to hiring him. That is what happens in the real world.… Read more »

Chris Sanger
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Chris Sanger

Exactly MoR. The anti-Heilman obsessives here are as fact-free as their ideologically different but as though-process challenged Tea Party equivalents. Someone please save this city from them. More power to you.

Man of Reason
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Man of Reason

@Shawn Thompson. Guess you weren’t reading the news. The story in wehoVille about Ownes and Solomon said his email claimed she was calling people to ask them to appear in a photo shoot for Heilman, not asking them for money for him. Big difference there.

Shawn Thompson
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Shawn Thompson

In reading over this thread I find it so off point that some are trying to suggest some D’amico coup attempt or Rex/ owens game plan. Seriously? What set the ball rolling in this? Mr Duran a lawyer by trade and a long term council member who Im sure knows the protocol in hiring practices or code of conduct with the city of weho hires a guy he had sexual relations with and does not disclose that to the Human Resources DPT of the city? That’s the problem period. Part two of this also is Fran Solomon 30 year council… Read more »

Citizen W
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Citizen W

Ditto Ditto Ditto Ditto and Ditto. I think Mr Sanger is confusing Mssrs. D’amico and Duran with each other.IF not, then I just fail to understand his comments. Duran raises money each time he runs for election – it’s a great way to make a few bucks and not have to spend a penny if he or anyone else doesn’t want to. So, if he has the gall to run again, which would look pretty crazy to this reporters eyes, It will be like getting a bonus on departure from office. There is one thing that does bother me more… Read more »

Shawn Thompson
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Shawn Thompson

Duran should of resigned when this first became clear how he hired this deputy.. Do we really want a council members who’s HR mistake costs the citizens $500,000 plus all the other legal fees i’m sure that are not known yet?

Ty Geltmaker
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Ty Geltmaker

Councillors and City Manager:

Who among you voted/approved the Duran/Owens settlement? Please list for the public votes of each City Council Member on this item, and do not say it was a private matter not covered by the Brown Act dealt with in Closed Session. You are now revealed to be no less than Bell and other municipalities a fake organization shilling for each other.

Ty Geltmaker, Ph.D.
8742 Rangely Ave.