A former deputy chief of police in a Burbank employment retaliation claim has been awarded almost $1.3 million after filing a civil lawsuit against the city in 2009.
The jury sided with his version of events: that he was fired for refusing to rubber stamp the termination of several minority officers, as well as raising concerns about how a sexual harassment incident was handled.
As this case illustrates, just because a person wasn’t the direct target of sexual harassment doesn’t mean they don’t have a claim. There is what is known as a “hostile work environment,” which can be created when someone makes lewd jokes or comments. No touching has to ever take place.
When some employees simply go along with this environment, they can be chastised, ridiculed or even retaliated against – as appears to be the case here.
Most employees conduct managerial training on these issues, so there really should be no confusion among upper-level staff about what sexual harassment is and the severe consequences for it. That means when it happens, it is a result of blatant disregard of the law.
This is especially troublesome when the agency involved is charged with upholding the law – in this case, the Burbank Police Department.
As Burbank Employment Attorney Houman Fakhimi understands it, this is just one of a number of discrimination and sexual harassment claims working their way through the legal pipeline.
In this situation, the case arose following a robbery at a local bakery. Following that incident, there were multiple allegations of excessive force. That started the ball rolling with complaints of many other alleged wrongdoings within the department.
It came out that the deputy chief in this case had raised concerns about the handling of a sexual harassment case within the department. And what was more, he refused to sign off on the firing of several minority officers.
Amid the turmoil from these investigations, the chief said he was “restructuring” the department. This ultimately led to the deputy chief, as well as 10 other employees, being “let go,” some of those with allegations of misconduct.
What the deputy chief needed to prove in this case was that he was pushed out in retaliation for his protection of minority officers and outspokenness with regard to sexual harassment within the agency.
The jury found that the internal investigation into the allegations of excessive force on the bakery robbery case were riddled with inaccuracies that appeared to protect the city. That cast doubt on the city’s other claims that their intentions regarding the deputy chief’s firing were entirely pure.
City witnesses said they did not know of the deputy chief’s stance on the minority firings or the sexual harassment.
The jury decided otherwise. They awarded him $1.29 million for lost wages and another $250,000 for pain and suffering. He is also seeking to have his badge back so can honorably retire.
In the numerous other cases that are awaiting trial, the deputy chief may be called to testify. Having won this case, he now may be considered a more credible witness.
All employees – but especially those in the law enforcement field -have a responsibility to stand up for what is right. They must be protected against retaliatory acts when they do.