Friday, August 24, 2007


Ruby De Vera explains her reason for taking on City Hall and why she might take them on again; Fil Am community leaders react to her 125K lawsuit settlement

“This outcome proves that my termination was unjustified and confirms legal precedence that no one should ever be fired because of their political activities. I hope my case will encourage more Filipinos to pursue their dreams of running for office and be a voice for their community which has always been my passion,” De Vera stated in her first official statement after being awarded a 125K settlement in a lawsuit she filed against Councilman Ed Reyes and the City of Los Angeles.

It is a vindication, says her Filipina lawyer, Toni Jaramilla.

De Vera filed a free speech lawsuit against Reyes and City of LA for terminating her after running for public office. She was terminated the very day she returned to work after running for an open seat in City Council during the November, 2005 elections. De Vera, who was Reyes’ office manager at the time, did not run against her boss, but rather against Jose Huizar, a candidate Reyes later endorsed and was backed by Mayor Villaraigosa.

“This was an enormous victory, both monetary and symbolically. Ms. De Vera secured another job within days so her economic loss was not significant. $125,000 is therefore very dignified. But it was never about the money. The lawsuit was always about holding a government and its leaders accountable for infringing on a citizen’s free speech rights to run for public office. This was a righteous case and we could not wait to bring it before a jury,” Jaramilla said.

Here's the rest of De Vera's press statement which includes a possible part two to this saga: because a councilmember (Bill Rosendahl) has accused De Vera of "gaming the system," she and her legal team are "examining our options at this point on whether to pursue an action against Rosendahl, and/or have the settlement voided and proceed to trial."

"Councilmembers Bill Rosendahl and Janice Hahn justified De Vera’s termination in their comments to the LA Times (August 18, 2007) that De Vera was an “at-will” employee. Rosendahl went on to say that De Vera was “gaming the system” which De Vera denies. Jaramilla remarks, 'Apparently, Rosendahl and Hahn fell asleep during history class when the U.S. Constitution was discussed. It is appalling that some of our own elected officials cannot grasp the basic concept that just because you are an at-will employee, does not mean you have no protections under the Constitution or other state and federal laws that prohibit discrimination and retaliation in the workplace.'

David Duchrow, co-counsel for De Vera states 'Ruby was an exemplary employee and is beloved in the community as demonstrated by the huge amount of votes she received. This kind of ‘back room brokering’ of elections should not be tolerated in LA. The public, and not government leaders by virtue of their power and influence, should decide who can and should run for political positions.' Regarding Rosendahl’s comment about De Vera, 'We are examining our options at this point on whether to pursue an action against Rosendahl, and/or have the settlement voided and proceed to trial,” says Duchrow.'"

Meanwhile, here are some reactions from Filipino community leaders:

As a student of leadership development, organizational development and quality management systems, what Ruby De Vera experienced was a profound blow to the civility and humane veneer that LA City municipal government sectors managed to create in its years of existence. Even, myself as an insider and a volunteer member of its boards or commissions, could not imagine that someone would 'retaliate' in such a brazen way to Ruby who was exercising simply her right to participate in a democratic system by running in office to be elected as a councilperson.

I could not understand that someone like Ruby, who put in a decade of service to LA city government, a career public servant, a city government insider, could lose her job over the very essence of exercising her rights to participate publicly in city council chambers, if she had been elected, and literally preempted from functioning, made an outsider, thrown out of a job without a means of livelihood.

Yet, the way the City Council responded to restore her dignity sent a very clear message that this brazen act of retaliation is not condoned nor enabled by this progressive Los Angeles City Council was an honorable act! It restored my faith that indeed this LA City Government, under the leadership of its progressive Mayor and its City Council President is truly serious in pursuing its new pathway of Renaissance, of making this city government no longer an entity frozen in the practices of the 1950s, but a city government that leads us in progressive practices of green living, of healthy development that provides living wages to its residents, and a city government that works for all of its constituents, including the developers, the unions, its city employees and all 4,000,000 residents that come from all corners of the world.

I am proud that this Los Angeles City Council voted to restore faith in the system and dignity to Ruby de Vera, two decades - long public servant who has served this city and our community honorably, respectably and unselfishly!
Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. Commissioner,
Los Angeles City Convention and Exhibition Center Authority ( ID purposes only )
Commissioner Emeritus, Los Angeles City Civil Service Commission, 2005-2007

There are people who believe that the decision made by the Los Angeles City Council on November 17, 2007 to settle Ruby De Vera’s lawsuit is a victory. Initially, I would have agreed. However, after reading the November 18 LA Times article by Steve Hymon, I became uncomfortable with all the questions that surfaced in my mind. I'm going to mention just three of these questions.

My first question, some will say, is quite obvious given the numerous email responses I’ve been privy to these past few days. Did the Council act with the understanding that Councilman Ed Reyes did something wrong or did they act in the best interest of certain Councilmembers? Janice Hahn’s statement says quite a bit:

It bothered me because I thought it sent the wrong message to our at-will employees that if they were terminated they could sue," Hahn said. "But the case was made to me that we could have a difficult time in court because of things said when she was let go, and I was convinced that this was the best way to put this behind us, especially for Councilman Reyes.
Ruby’s lawsuit would have deposed Councilman Reyes as well as Councilman Jose Huizar, something that elected officials try to avoid as much as possible. The deposition would have confirmed that prior to running for office, Ruby approached Councilman Reyes to let him know of her intentions to run. According to Ruby, Reyes told her that she should talk to Jose Huizar. At the time, certain City employees alleged that Reyes supported Huizar to gain favor with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa since Reyes supported then Mayor James K. Hahn during the previous Mayoral race. According to Ruby, she complied with Reyes’ instructions and Huizar gave her a go signal. So she moved forward thinking that she had crossed her t’s and dotted her i’s. But a week after coming back to work, Reyes fired Ruby for being an “embarrassment”. Who knows what else was said to her? This prompted her lawsuit.
Bill Rosendahl’s statement accusing Ruby of "gaming the system" is a clear indication that not all the Councilmembers understand the real intent behind this lawsuit. Yes, Ruby is an at-will employee who can be fired at any time. In all my years spent in City Hall, I know that she is not the first to be fired for political reasons.

But was Ruby “gaming the system”? There is no one I know who is less capable of this than Ruby de Vera. Ruby has worked for years for the City of Los Angeles - years spent in unwavering loyalty, total dedication and perseverance despite all odds, years filled with hard work and good intentions.

I believe that Ruby’s lawsuit was not about “gaming the system” but rather about reminding the system that even at-will employees have rights that are upheld by the Constitution. Ruby actually confirmed my suspicion that, if she were simply told to leave the office, without any comments being made; she would have simply walked away. Knowing Ruby, if that had been what transpired, there would have been no complaints. If Ruby was about gaming the system, those who know her well can say that she has had many opportunities in the past. With Rosendahl’s accusation, didn’t he just give her an opportunity to slap him with an oral defamation lawsuit? But that isn’t Ruby.

In filing the lawsuit, Ruby has sent a clear statement to the City Council. Whether they heard it or not is their responsibility and your evidence on whether or not they should remain as decision-makers for one of the largest cities in the world.

Now that Ruby’s lawsuit has been settled, I can’t help but ask my second question. Did Ruby receive the appropriate compensation? Settlement, in legal terms, usually applies to taking the lesser of two evils. Rosendahl’s statement that “taxpayers end up paying the bill” was so incongruous it made me laugh in exasperation. We’re talking here about the same Council known to approve the settlement of cases more than fight them in court. Who can really say how much is appropriate compensation in this situation? The Filipino cultural norm is to adhere to a strong sense of honor, dignity and pride. To be called an “embarrassment” as a reason for firing is like the foot that pushes you to the ground after being slapped in the face. This is what Ruby received from the same person whom she helped place in his position of power. What about Reyes, who seems to have surfaced out of all of this seemingly totally unscathed?

So now I have to ask my third question. Who is the real victor in this case? Let me know when you’ve figured it out.

De Vera was active during the anti-martial law struggle against the US-Marcos dictatorship and promoted Filipino community empowerment. She was an active supporter of the Filipino World War II veterans struggle and was also active advocate for the disabled community.

JFAV coordinator Peping Baclig, testified at the Los Angeles city council in 2005 to support De Vera for her claims of discrimination. De Vera ran in District 14 where there is a large Filipino American population.
We will always fight discrimination and systemic racism in any form and way. This is a clear that victory inspires us. This is not only for Ruby but also for all in the Filipino community who seeks justice. It’s a victory for Ruby. It is a victory for the Filipino Community!

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