Jun 24, 2021 - News

Denver airport CEO nominee tied to multiple lawsuits at former agency

A photo of Phil Washington holding a microphone

Phil Washington. Photo: Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

At least three lawsuits filed against the Los Angeles transit agency under Phillip Washington's watch remain pending in the Superior Court of California in LA County, according to documents obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The findings raise new questions around Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's pick to lead Denver International Airport, and how well the mayor's office vetted his nominee.

  • Amid contradictory messaging from Hancock's staff, a Denver City Council committee has asked Washington to meet with them June 30 before deciding whether to advance his appointment.

State of play: The lawsuits, filed between October 2019 and February 2020, allege gender discrimination and whistleblower retaliation by leadership at LA Metro.

  • Washington is named directly in one of the lawsuits.
  • Neither the mayor's office, nor Washington, have spoken about them publicly.

Zoom in: At least two other people are actively challenging the agency, in addition to Jennifer Loew — the LA Metro whistleblower who flagged a no-bid contract for a hotline reportedly costing taxpayers about $8,000 per call — who named Washington in her suit against the agency on public corruption and retaliation claims.

  • Frankie De Guzman, a combat veteran and the first woman ever hired as a lieutenant in LA Metro's security department, was subjected to "ongoing discrimination and harassment" and was "wrongfully terminated" after raising complaints, court documents allege.
  • Jose Fierro is suing the agency for discrimination and retaliation after he spoke out about what he alleges were unlawful hiring practices, the lawsuit reads.
  • Of note: A fourth lawsuit, from former LA metro employee Cynthia Karpman, was filed in March 2018 for discrimination and retaliation, but court records show a request for dismissal was filed.

Flashback: As Axios first reported, Washington is named in a search warrant seeking communication records between him and other high-ranking officials. The warrant is part of an ongoing review of criminal allegations against the Los Angeles Metro transit agency Washington led from March 2015 to May 2020.

  • LA County District Attorney's Office spokesperson Greg Risling told Axios the office's Public Integrity Division is currently reviewing a matter connected to Washington's time at the helm of LA Metro. The prosecutor's office would not say whether Washington was under investigation.

The vetting process: "Phil cleared a formal background check conducted for Mayor Hancock, as well as the vetting conducted by the Biden-Harris team before they tapped Phil to head their transportation transition group," according to an email, obtained by Axios, that Hancock's deputy chief of staff sent to council members.

  • The email adds that Washington has an "active top federal security clearance" and that LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, who's on LA Metro’s board, "reassured" Hancock of Washington's leadership capabilities.

What they're saying: "I am not under investigation at all. There is a review that's going on, but not under investigation," Washington said in an interview on Next with Kyle Clark that aired Tuesday night.

  • Hancock's spokesman told Axios last week that Washington would not speak with reporters until after he was confirmed. The mayor's office did not respond to our third request for an interview with Washington.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to show that Phillip Washington is, in fact, named in one of the lawsuits, filed by Jennifer Loew.


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