Hawkins v. City of Los Angeles, 40 Cal. App. 5th 384 (2019)

Todd Hawkins and Hyung Kim were terminated from their jobs as hearing examiners at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. Hawkins and Kim alleged they had been fired for whistleblowing on the City’s practice of pressuring parking ticket hearing examiners to change decisions from “not liable” to “liable,” meaning that drivers who had challenged their tickets were not getting refunds to which hearing examiners had found they were entitled. The jury respectively awarded Hawkins $238,531 and Kim $188,631 in damages, and the trial court assessed a $20,000 penalty under the Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”) and awarded plaintiffs $1,054,286.88 in attorney’s fees. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment, holding that the City’s proffered reasons for firing plaintiffs were pretextual because, among other things, the employees were not terminated for the alleged performance deficiencies until after they had complained. Further, there was “overwhelming evidence” that supervisors had instructed hearing officers to change decisions: “Liable. Liable. Liable. Everything had to be liable.”