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Ron Galperin’s City Controller Office Steeped in Racial Discrimination, Say Former Employees

According to an email, only Black men were invited to apply to be his driver.

Ron Galperin, City Controller of Los Angeles, sits at his desk.
Ron Galperin, City Controller of Los Angeles, sits at his desk. (Image: Ron Galperin | Flickr)

UPDATE 4/1/2022: After publishing, Knock LA obtained an email sent by Councilmember Price Jr. requesting exclusively Black men to apply to be drivers for Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin. Price instructs recipients to “Pass it on,” referring to the job application.  Price did not return a request for comment. 

A lawsuit filed in April 2021 in the Los Angeles Superior Court of California alleges that City Controller Ron Galperin discriminated and retaliated against an employee on the basis of the person’s race, age, and attempted whistleblowing.

Galperin was elected to the office in 2013, and is currently running to be the state controller of California. He’s been endorsed by civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, Planned Parenthood, Equality California, Mayor Garcetti, City Councilmembers Raman and Koretz, and Los Angeles County Democratic Party chair Mark Gonzalez, among others. 

Vijay Singhal, a 62-year-old Indian man, is a former principal deputy attorney in the controller’s office. He claims in the lawsuit that his white boss, Chief Deputy Controller Georgia Mattera, discriminated against him by taking away projects and by intentionally creating tension between Singhal and Galperin. Through his attorneys, Vijay Singhal declined to participate in this report.

Ian Thompson, director of communications for Controller Galperin tells Knock LA the office was not aware of any discrimation against Singhal; they also said that the average age of employees in the office is 47.

Singhal and another terminated city employee also sued the City of Baldwin Park in 2014. They alleged they had been fired for refusing to sign off on unethical and illegal requests made by Baldwin Park city councilmembers. The US Department of Justice later charged one of the former councilmembers named in the lawsuit, Richard Pacheco, with bribery — to which he has pleaded guilty. 

In the LA city controller’s office, Singhal reported to Georgia Mattera between 2016 and 2020. Mattera was replaced in April 2020 by new hire Crista Binder, who is currently the chief deputy controller, and also white, according to the filing. 

The claim states that Singhal became aware in 2019 that Deputy Director of Auditing Siri Khalsa, who was also Indian and over 40 years old, was discriminated against. Singhal reported this to Chief Management Analyst JoVonne Lavender, who is Black (and filled the human resources role at Galperin’s office according to the filing). Singhal claims Lavender did not investigate the complaints.

The office of Controller Galperin says they are not aware of any discrimination alleged by Khalsa, and they say she retired in 2021 after two decades of working for the City of LA. Khalsa and her attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Former employees told Knock LA that the controller’s office was steeped in a culture of racially motivated hiring practices under Galperin. They allege that the “special assistant” position is Galperin’s own city-paid driver, and that Galperin would allegedly hire mostly young Black men for the position. 

The controller’s office shared with Knock LA that 15 special assistants have been hired since 2015. Six of them identified as African American, and of those, one identified as female. 

Knock LA obtained an email sent out by Kerman Maddox, partner of Capri Maddox (the executive director of LA’s Department of Civil + Human Rights and Equity), asking for people to submit exclusively young Black male candidates for an entry level job. Other current and former members of Galperin’s administration confirmed to Knock LA that the position sought was for Galperin’s driver. Kerman Maddox did not return a comment by the time of publication. 

The office says that they did not ask Maddox to make that request, and that Controller Galperin has never hired solely based on gender or race. They also say that more than 65% of the office’s employees are women.

Ethan Spalding — a Black former special assistant, driver, and government affairs deputy for the controller — said he never experienced anything discriminatory while working at the office. 

A former employee in the city controller’s office, who spoke to Knock LA under the condition of anonymity, says that while the entire office was “rather diverse” in terms of ethnicity, they found it “very weird” that only one of the drivers that they worked with was not Black. The employee also noted that it was strange that the city controller had so many employees functioning as drivers, who would even drive him to appointments unrelated to city business. One example they used was that Controller Galperin would be taken to the gym by his drivers. 

The office of the Controller says that this is false. 

When shown the job posting sent by Kerman Maddox, the former employee said that the office would tell candidates that they would have more duties than driving, but that in practice they were driving Controller Galperin everywhere. A current job posting for the special assistant position says that an essential duty is to “staff and drive the Controller to meetings, special events, and speaking engagements as needed.”

The special assistant position is part-time and paid hourly, at $23.59 per hour, and the office says they are legally limited to working just over 1,000 total hours, which they say is the reason the position has high turnover. Controller Galperin’s office says that they currently employ two special assistants. 

The former employee says they were also judged based on what they were wearing in the office, even though the employee says they were dressed professionally. A second former employee shared that they were also told by the office that their boots and hairstyle had to be changed.

The controller’s office says that this is false.

Helen You, an associate attorney at Hennig Kramer Ruiz & Singh and National Lawyers Guild LA board member, says that a directive from the city to select a Black man for this role would be in conflict with the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The law states that employers of a certain size cannot make hiring decisions based on a list of protected categories, which includes sex, race, and age. You also says the directive relies on racist ideology. “I personally don’t believe that there’s any merit-based calculation that you’re making when you’re saying that there has to be a Black man in this role. That determination is pulling from long-lasting stereotypes.”

Singhal also claims that Galperin’s office oversaw an illegal transfer of funds. 

In 2020, Singhal says Mattera told him to review a $50 million transfer from the Building and Safety Fund to the General Fund directed by the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for “COVID-19 related expenses.” Singhal was concerned this was a violation of California state law and sought advice from the city attorney. Chief Legislative Analyst Sharon Tso informed Singhal that Garcetti did not have the authority to make this decision. 

The office of the controller says there was no illegal transfer of funds. 

CLA Sharon Tso did not reply to Knock LA in time for publication.

Singhal submitted a report in April 2020 — titled “Collaborate to Create Value” — to Galperin, the mayor’s office, and other city officials, in order to draw attention to what he says is an opportunity to better direct funds to city programs and services and to streamline ways to better account for the money. The report contends that the City of Los Angeles allowed the Building and Safety Permit fund to accumulate over $346 million in 2019, instead of transferring the money to the general fund for other projects, staff pay, and administrative costs.

A snippet from the report first chapter, titled 'The Issue', shows a red arrow pointing up. The arrow notes the balance of the Building and Safety Permit fund, which has increased from $190 million in 2016 to over $400 million in 2020. On the left of the image, black text says: Building and Safety Permit Fund has $346 million in cash (on June 30, 2019). Below it says in contrast, the fund only had $21 million on July 1, 2011.
A selection from the Collaborate to Create Value report notes the City of Los Angeles allowed the Building and Safety Permit fund to accumulate to $346 million.

In the report, Singhal writes that the city also used incorrect rates to decide how much money was transferred between the General and Building and Safety funds, fumbling opportunities to accrue additional money.

The report also contains editorial flourishes — the final pages state, “Our City is hurting.” Singhal signs off as the “City’s Disruptive Innovation Team.”

The day after Singhal submitted the report, Binder and Lavender placed him on administrative leave. A few months later, in September 2020, he was terminated. The office claimed Singhal had engaged in conduct in conflict with his job duties, misused “delegated authority,” refused to cooperate with supervision of management, and misused the city seal.

The office of the controller says they cannot comment on the issue of Singhal’s firing due to ongoing litigation.

In the report itself, the office says that they have “a thorough process on every report and audit it releases,” and that “this document had none of those protections or quality control measures involved in its production.” They added that the document in question had none of those protections or quality control measures and solely reflects the opinion of the author.

An official from Galperin’s office contends that Singhal was known to push the envelope at work, and went too far by not informing the staff about sending out the April 2020 report. They also claim Singhal did not finish assignments. 

Controller Galperin has positioned himself as a progressive public official working hard to elucidate the ins and outs of city finances for the public, and went on a call on March 24 to argue for radical transparency and empowering the Los Angeles City Ethics commission to provide better oversight on lobbying and political campaigns. The office says that he is the first LGTBQ+ citywide elected official, pushing for equity for women and people of color. They also issued a report on improving gender equity in the City of LA workplace. 

However, according to three former employees, some of the controller’s practices in his own office are woefully antiquated.