LCW Wins Defense Verdict In Civil Rights Act Case Against Police Department Administrators

CATEGORY: Client Update for Public Agencies, Fire Watch, Law Enforcement Briefing Room
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education, Public Safety
DATE: Sep 07, 2022

LCW Partner Jennifer Rosner and Associate Attorneys Joung Yim and La Rita Turner won a defense verdict in a trial of a U.S. Civil Rights Act case.  A city police officer sued the police department’s former chief, the current chief, and a former lieutenant, under 42 USC Section 1983. The plaintiff officer alleged he was retaliated against for exercising his First Amendment free speech rights concerning his union activities.  The initial lawsuit also alleged a cause of action for gender discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, but the court dismissed that cause of action on a motion for summary judgment.  The plaintiff officer dismissed the city from the lawsuit at the start of the trial.

The plaintiff officer alleged that the department denied him a School Resources Officer (SRO) assignment because of his activity on behalf of the police officers association (POA).  The officer contended that command staff (consisting of lieutenants, captains, and the chief) unfairly judged POA board members as disloyal and had ranked him and other POA board members lower on ‘promotability’ than other non-member officers.  The officer further alleged that administrators began a pattern of retaliation for his association and involvement with the POA and its work.

At trial, the officer asked for a total of $8 million in past and future emotional distress damages.

During the trial, the LCW team disputed that the command staff retaliated against the plaintiff officer because of his union activity.  Other than the SRO assignment, the officer had received every single special assignment he had ever applied for with the Department.  In fact, even in this circumstance, the officer was offered two different special assignments that the department had deemed a better fit for his skills and experience.  The LCW trial team also pointed to numerous occasions when the command staff was supportive of the POA, thanked them for their efforts, and recognized the merit of the work of several POA board members, including the plaintiff officer.

The LCW trial team emphasized that the damages the officer requested were clearly unwarranted, given that the officer admittedly did not seek any medical help despite his alleged distress, and later turned down other prestigious assignments the department offered.

After the selection of a foreperson, the jury was out for only 45 minutes before returning with a defense verdict for all three defendants.

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