A black Los Angeles police officer was awarded $1.2 million by a Southern California jury Tuesday for his racial discrimination and harassment lawsuit against the city and department.
Officer Earl Wright, a 23-year veteran on the force, said the department didn’t take complaints seriously that dated back to 2009, which caused him to be hospitalized and miss seven months of work because of stress and anxiety.
Wright detailed repeated bigoted incidents that included a racial slur in a text message from a supervisor, posters that highlighted his skin color and other racially tinged harassment.
In November 2009, Sgt. Peter Foster, a white officer who supervised the Community Relations Office in Central Division, called Wright back from the field to present him with a cake for his 20-year anniversary with the department. The cake was topped with a fried chicken leg and a slice of watermelon.
In September 2009, photos of Wright and his partner’s faces were superimposed on a “Sanford and Son” poster that was plastered around the department and called a family portrait.
Deputy City Attorney Daniel Aguilera said the city was very disappointed with the verdict and was examining options to challenge it.
Wright’s suit was one of four harassment cases from the same unit that included a female officer’s claim of sexual harassment, and discrimination claims by a Latino officer and two Asian officers, according to Aguilera.
At the end of June 2010, Officer Marie Kardiban complained to a supervisor that she was being sexually harassed by Foster, resulting in an investigation by internal affairs into claims by her and Wright.
The department “claims they tried to fix it, but they left the sergeant in the same place for about three to four months, and Earl started to get ostracized by the people in the unit because they thought he was a snitch,” Wright’s lawyer Gregory W. Smith said.
A judge decided against Kardiban and there was no payout, but two other cases will be decided later this year, according to Aguilera.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated less than four hours before announcing its verdict following Wright’s four day trial.
In Wright’s case, the jury awarded $600,000 for past economic damages and $600,000 for future damages, Smith said.
The city argued that Wright failed for many months to report the initial incidents.
“He never reported anything, so how is an employer supposed to remedy anything if it’s not reported?” Aguilera said.
Smith said Wright was worried about retaliation while working in a hostile environment. But Aguilera said no evidence was presented that Foster retaliated against Wright, only the suggestion that Foster would have.
All of the officers who complained about harassment remain with the department but are no longer working in the same unit, Aguilera said.
The case is the latest in a series of big figure settlements and jury awards in cases brought by LAPD officers against the department.
Last week, City Council approved a $1.25 million payout to a current and a former officer who said they were repeatedly harassed by their supervisor because they are lesbians.
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