Former HR Chief of Santa Monica Accuses City of Racial Discrimination

She Was Selected in 2018 as the First African American to Hold That Position Within City Leadership, According to the Lawsuit

By Zach Armstrong

The former head of Human Resources for the City of Santa Monica is accusing the City of discrimination and wrongful termination, further alleging that those actions caused damage to her mental well-being.

Lori Gentles, who served as Santa Monica’s Chief People Officer – Human Resources for five years until being fired a few months back, brought the lawsuit forward in February in the Superior Court of California, County of L.A. The former City C-Suite worker is seeking compensation for financial losses and other alleged damage.

Gentles was selected in 2018 as the first African American to hold that position within City leadership, according to the lawsuit. Prior to her role for Santa Monica, Gentles served as Human Resources Director for the County of Santa Barbara, HR Director for Contra Costa County, Deputy Personnel Director for the City of Phoenix and HR Administrator for the City of Mesa, in addition to several HR roles at California universities.

According to the lawsuit, Gentles made complaints during her tenure about “institutionalized racism” with the City, specifically towards her and other employees who resigned due to “disparate treatment received based on their race.” It also alleges that the former HR chief attempted to implement changes which would’ve eliminated discrimination, but was retaliated against for doing so, while also being “held to a different standard” than her White counterparts within City leadership.

In response to inquiry, a City spokesperson did not immediately provide a response or statement to the lawsuit. 

One instance detailed in the lawsuit occurred in April 2021, when Gentles received a complaint of a White City worker allegedly saying “we could just lynch him” in reference to a Black man. When Gentles reported the matter, she was allegedly laughed at by the man who was subsequently appointed to run the case’s investigation.

Other alleged examples described in the lawsuit include Gentles receiving an “unfair” performance review after concluding a police report wasn’t false, which upset City leadership who wished for a false report to limit their liability; issuing complaints that the City overlooked diverse job candidates and lacked performance evaluations (which she believed disproportionately impacted workers of color); and being asked by colleagues how she would feel if they used the term “wigga.”

These alleged actions caused substantial stress and anxiety for Gentles. Upon seeking professional treatment and requesting medical leave, City Manager David White and City Attorney Meishya Yang unlawfully requested copies of Gentles’ medical records and sought information on how to terminate her, the lawsuit alleges.

In October of last year, according to the lawsuit, Gentles was placed on paid administrative leave in retaliation for issuing complaints and taking medical leave. She was fired from her position in February of this year.

Due to the aforementioned actions, the former HR chief alleges that emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation and “manifestation of physical symptoms” will continue to plague her.

The next court date is a case management conference scheduled for Aug. 20 where a trial date should be assigned, according to a spokesperson with the law firm representing Gentles.

in Hard, News
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