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Cedillo sues L.A. County Labor Federation over racist audio

Former Los Angeles City Councilmember Gil Cedillo took legal action against the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor on Friday, saying in a lawsuit the organization is responsible for a secret recording that “ruined his reputation” and cost him employment income.

Cedillo’s attorneys provided a copy of their lawsuit to The Times, saying it had been filed. Although the filing does not yet appear to have been processed by Los Angeles Superior Court, Cedillo’s legal team provided a receipt issued by the court in response to the filing.

The recording at the federation headquarters became public nearly a year ago, drawing furious protests and prompting the resignation of two others who attended the meeting — council President Nury Martinez and Ron Herrera, the head of the labor federation. Councilmember Kevin de León, who also attended the meeting, is running for reelection. The conversation included racist and derogatory remarks about Black Angelenos, Oaxacans and others.

Cedillo’s complaint, which alleges invasion of privacy and negligence, also names two of the federation’s then-employees, Santos Leon and Karla Vasquez.

The defendants “surreptitiously recorded” him during a meeting he attended at the federation offices in October 2021, the complaint said.

In his filing, Cedillo said the recording was made without his knowledge or consent. The filing also portrayed the release of the audio as a “textbook ‘October surprise,’” one designed to “inflict maximum damage on [Cedillo’s] reputation.”

A spokesperson for the labor federation, a nonprofit group that represents unions from across the county, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cedillo also did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In his lawsuit, he said the federation and its employees acted negligently and deprived him of his privacy — actions that ultimately caused him to lose job offers and income.

The lawsuit also offers a new response to the audio, which The Times first reported on in October 2022, saying that others in the recording, not Cedillo, “made comments that were perceived as highly offensive by many people.” The lawsuit argues that comments heard in the recording were taken out of context or featured Spanish slang that was improperly translated.

“But the most glaring fact omitted from the public discourse over this conversation is that Mr. Cedillo never made any comment that was even remotely offensive during the illegally recorded conversation,” the lawsuit said. “He was, in fact, silent during those comments.

“His entire lifetime of service was jettisoned because he failed to object to comments made by his colleagues,” the filing said.

Cedillo lost his bid for reelection in June 2022, several months before the release of the audio. After the audio became public, Cedillo denied making racist statements but apologized for remaining silent.

“It is my instinct to hold others accountable when they use derogatory or racially divisive language. Clearly, I should have intervened,” he said at the time.

Cedillo did not step down in the wake of the uproar, instead deciding to avoid council meetings for the remainder of his term. In December, hours after he left office, he released a three-page letter in which he said he was a victim of “cancel culture.”

“I publicly apologized for not cutting off my colleagues when their comments crossed a line,” Cedillo wrote. “But to resign for staying silent, with no look at who said what in that room, and ignoring the totality of my work and history? That is unacceptable.”

Cedillo is seeking punitive damages, general damages and compensatory damages, among other things, saying the release of the audio caused him to lose income and job offers.

Neither Leon nor Vasquez, who are married, has been publicly identified as suspects in the case. At the time of the recording, Vasquez served as an executive assistant to Herrera, the leader of the federation, and Leon was the organization’s accountant.

Los Angeles police served a search warrant at their Eagle Rock home in July. Leon’s computers were taken by police, according to an individual who has knowledge of the warrant but was not authorized to speak publicly.

Recording conversations without a person’s consent is illegal in California, with rare exceptions, and can be pursued as a felony. The warrant cited the penal codes for eavesdropping and destroying or concealing evidence, the source said.

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department said earlier this week that there were no updates into the police investigation into the tape recording.

Leon’s lawyer could not be immediately reached for comment. An attorney for Vasquez, who resigned her post at the federation earlier this year, said Friday he had not yet seen the lawsuit.

“I’ll be in a better position to comment once I’ve had the opportunity to review the lawsuit,” said Michael A. Goldstein, the lawyer representing Vasquez.

Cedillo’s lawsuit said the individuals behind the recording have not been held accountable. Nearly two years after it was recorded, “not a single person has been arrested or prosecuted,” the lawsuit states.

Cedillo’s lawyer, Brian Kabateck, declined to discuss the lawsuit, saying in an email that it “speaks for itself.”

Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.

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