October 13, 2019

Jury Rules Against Beverly Hills in Lawsuit Over Police Chief

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A Los Angeles jury ruled against the city of Beverly Hills on July 9 in a lawsuit regarding Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli, who allegedly made disparaging remarks toward her employees.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the jury awarded $1.1 million total to the plaintiffs, Police Lts. Michael Foxen, Renato Moreno and Shaun Davis and civilian employee Dona Norris. The plaintiffs alleged that Spagnoli made anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic remarks, including that Spagnoli allegedly said, “Ew and gross” when she discovered that Norris is a lesbian and that Norris shouldn’t stand next to her in photos. The plaintiffs also alleged that Spagnoli directed Davis, who was Norris’ supervisor, to downgrade Norris’ evaluation because of her sexual orientation.

The plaintiffs also alleged that Spagnoli engaged in discrimination against Moreno for being Latino and Catholic and that Spagnoli’s office retaliated against Foxen for alleging that a lesbian officer was being wrongfully paid less than a heterosexual male officer.

In November, the city agreed to a separate $2.3 million settlement regarding Spagnoli’s conduct, where the plaintiff, since-retired Capt. Mark Rosen, alleged that Spagnoli called yarmulkes “funny hats” and blocked Rosen from promotions because he’s Jewish. Moreno and Foxen alleged that Spagnoli retaliated against them for providing depositions in the Rosen case that were negative toward her.

The jury dismissed the allegations of racial discrimination against Spagnoli, saying that there was no evidence that she actually uttered the alleged anti-gay remarks against Norris. However, the jury upheld the allegations that Spagnoli engaged in workplace harassment and retaliation against the plaintiffs.

Brad Gage, the plaintiffs’ attorney, told the Journal in a phone interview that the jury ruled in favor of the plaintiffs that Spagnoli allegedly made disparaging remarks against Jews, Catholics and Latinos, among others. He added that Spagnoli’s alleged remarks “personally offended” him.

The city is standing behind Spagnoli.

The City is pleased that the jury found no discrimination against any of the plaintiffs,” the city said in a statement. “The City disagrees with the jury’s finding that alleged statements of Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli rose to the level of harassment or retaliation. The City remains committed to the police chief and her efforts to reform the department, and condemns those who are undermining those efforts, as was revealed in the trial.”

Gage criticized the city’s response.

“They should be issuing statements saying that [they’re] going to follow law and take corrective action so that it doesn’t happen again,” Gage said.

Gage told the Times that there are still nearly 20 lawsuits being levied against Spagnoli and that that number could rise to 30.

“[The city] needs to realize that there is a problem in the 90210 that needs to be corrected, and the fact that so many other people are coming forward — with a jury finding four different employees are victims of harassment or retaliation — that’s significant,” Gage said.

Spagnoli has previously dismissed the allegations against her as being part of a smear campaign from disgruntled employees; however, during the recent trial, Spagnoli admitted to making some of her alleged comments but claimed she wasn’t trying to be malicious.

The city’s attorneys did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.

Spagnoli was hired as the city’s police chief in 2016; she previously served as the police chief of San Leandro and Benicia.

This article has been updated.