Former California State Parks employee awarded $2.3 million in discrimination lawsuit

A jury awarded a former California State Parks employee nearly $2.3 million after a trial laid bare claims that the agency and a former boss discriminated against him for his Mexican heritage and retaliated when he spoke up while employed in the department’s Malibu region.

“It could lay a foundation for other people behind me to have a fair shake,” plaintiff Angel Alba said Monday. He qualified his optimism, though, adding, “There’s still no room for Mexican American people in leadership here in this district.”

The jury delivered the verdict in favor of Alba on Friday after deliberating for about four days. Michael Anderson, Alba’s attorney, had asked the jury to award his client nearly $4 million for emotional distress and lost income.

“California State Parks is aware of the court’s decision in favor of Mr. Alba,” the agency said in a statement. “The department will need time to fully review the court’s ruling before commenting further or if there will be an appeal on the decision.”

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Alba, a former maintenance supervisor and worker at several state parks in Malibu, filed the suit in 2018 in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the agency and his former boss, Lynette Brody, after more than a decade of contentious workplace issues, according to the court documents.

Brody, Alba said, called him an “arrogant Mexican,” among other disparaging remarks.

Before the conclusion of the suit, when asked about Alba’s claims, Brody said, “I believe they’re very exaggerated.” She was superintendent of California State Parks’ Malibu sector when she retired in 2016.

“It’s so after-the-fact; I’ve been retired for almost eight years,” she said during a break in the trial. “For him to seek me out specifically is pretty difficult.”

In the verdict, all claims were supported — known formally as causes of action — except one, which was disability discrimination, according to Anderson. Jurors split 11to 1 in favor of Alba’s claim of racial discrimination against the state, Anderson said.

“It’s hopefully opened the doors here for some of the Hispanic groups that have still, as Angel [said], they’re still being shut out,” Anderson said. “But hopefully the district wakes up now.”

The California Department of Justice, which represented the state and Brody, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The dispute dates to around 2007, when Alba filed a complaint alleging racial discrimination and retaliation, as well as sexual harassment of his wife, according to Alba and the civil suit. An investigation substantiated most of his allegations at the time, documents show. But the hostile treatment continued, Alba and his family said.

According to the civil suit, Alba was denied promotions several times despite being qualified.

Alba suffered several back injuries dating to 2006, and in 2021 he developed anxiety so severe that a mental health professional advised him not return to work for several weeks, according to court proceedings. He said his disability was not accommodated, and his attorney said Alba was asked to perform work he should not have been doing with his condition.

About three years ago, Alba resigned from State Parks, leaving housing provided by the state along the coast. The aftermath split the family. Alba’s wife and daughter no longer live with him.

While Alba said the trial ate up time and money, which is still affecting the family, he expressed relief.

“It’s been a long time,” he said, “and finally we bring some closure to this.”

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