A lieutenant at the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station is suing Los Angeles County, alleging she has been denied promotions and transferred to an inferior position as part of a campaign against her directed from the top.
“Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva campaigned for office on a promise to end cronyism and restore a merit-based promotion system to the … Sheriff’s Department,” plaintiff’ Jennifer Seetoo’s lawsuit states. “In the year since he was elected, Villanueva has repeatedly promoted his male friends, applied more favorable standards to male employees than females generally and made disparaging comments about women within the LASD and to the media.”
An LASD representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Seetoo’s lawsuit, which was filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court. She is seeking unspecified damages on allegations of gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
The plaintiff’s lawsuit alleges Villanueva has “directed a vicious and cynical attack on one of the LASD’s finest female lieutenants, blocking her from the opportunity to promote to captain, directing his executives to demote her twice, belittling her, planting spies to watch her work, criticizing her success and transferring her out of the jurisdiction where she served admirably and provided rare experience in responding to fires during the most critical part of fire season.”
Seetoo says began working for the LASD as a custody assistant in 1997 and rose through the ranks. She spent a year in Iraq from May 2004 to May 2005, operating convoys and managing security operations for members of the U.S. Department of State, on an approved leave of absence from LASD, according to her suit.
In November 2018, Seetoo was transferred to a position as operations lieutenant at the Lost Hills/Malibu sheriff’s station and was made acting captain the same month after the regular captain went on a medical leave, her suit states. She was widely recognized for her role with others at the station in helping facilitate quick evacuations of residents during the Woolsey Fire, according to her court papers.
In January 2019, the station command staff falsely accused her of playing politics and jockeying for the job of the captain who was on medical leave, the suit states. She also was wrongly accused of having a relationship with a local city manager and now believes the information came from Villanueva, his chief of staff and an aide to the sheriff, according to her court papers.
“Following her removal as acting captain and operations lieutenant, Seetoo served successfully as watch commander and Malibu liaison lieutenant at (Malibu/Lost Hills),” and also continued to act as incident commander for the flooding, mudslides and debris flows in the large burn area created by the Woolsey Fire, the suit states.
Seetoo’s removal upset Malibu residents. “Malibu residents who had invested time and energy in working with Seetoo were furious,” reported the Malibu Times. “They questioned what would happen to several initiatives that they and Seetoo had invested time and energy on.
“Malibu Mayor Karen Farrer said she was “shocked and extremely disappointed in that decision.”
However, Seetoo was eventually transferred to the West Hollywood station and was told by a supervisor that the move was done “to further her career” but also because she had been “disruptive,” according to her complaint.
On Seetoo’s first day working as watch commander in the West Hollywood station, a sergeant showed her around the station, but no one provided her an orientation, the suit states.
“After she was transferred to West Hollywood, Seetoo typically spent nearly three hours per working day traveling to and from work,” the lawsuit says. “Seetoo is informed and believes, and based thereon alleges, that the LASD has a pattern and practice of transferring employees to stations far from their homes as a means of retaliating against them or making it appear in the eyes of other LASD employees that they have done something wrong. Within the LASD, this practice is commonly referred to as ‘freeway therapy’.”
“She sat at a desk for 12 hours and did almost nothing,” the suit says.
Meanwhile, Seetoo believed that Villanueva told a reporter “several false and defamatory things” about her last October, including repeating the statement that she had an inappropriate relationship with a city manager, the suit states.
Seetoo believes there are other female deputies who have been mistreated and denied promotion opportunities provided to men, according to her lawsuit, which cites several examples of the alleged preferential treatment for men.
“Under Sheriff Villanueva’s leadership, the LASD has repeatedly shown male sworn (deputies) more favorable treatment than that given to Seetoo,” the suit alleges.
Five days before filing her lawsuit, Seetoo lodged allegations of discrimination, harassment, retaliation and failure to prevent discrimination and harassment against Los Angeles County and the LASD with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
The City of West Hollywood pays more than $20 million a year to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for public safety services.