A Los Angeles Fire Department whistleblower who allegedly faced severe backlash after speaking out against waste and fraud within his station has been awarded $2.75 million by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury.
Stephen Meiche, who joined the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1980, said his LAFD colleagues ostracized him and subjected him to differential treatment that diminished not just his peace of mind but threatened his safety, NBC News Los Angeles reported.
Mr. Meiche, a certified diver and diver instructor for the LAFD said his troubles started in March 2014 after he complained that members of the dive team and other personnel were wrongfully destroying and discarding equipment purchased with taxpayer funds.
According to the whistleblower complaint, Mr. Meiche said dry diving suits and other LAFD property purchased with Urban Areas Security Initiative funds provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Grant Program were being destroyed in violation of grant money rules and that records were “likely falsified” to cover up the destruction, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Mr. Meiche’s whistleblower complaint also accused the LAFD personnel of falsely overstating their training hours in order to increase the amount of federal grant funds they received.
But instead of responding to his concerns or even investigating them, the LAFD allegedly turned the tables on him, subjecting him to harassment, discrimination, and other forms of retaliation, Mr. Meiche’s whistleblower complaint alleged.
Although the LAFD refused to look into his concerns about waste and fraud within the department, it did investigate claims made against him by other department members, he claimed. As a result, he was marginalized, denied overtime, and effectively “excluded from participation in the unit [he] helped build,” the whistleblower complaint stated.
Additionally, he claimed his safety was compromised and worried whether his colleagues would assist him if he became injured or imperiled in a dive.