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City Settles Police Employment Discrimination Suits for $18 M

The city of South Gate has paid out $18 million to settle lawsuits filed by a group of officers who said they faced racially-motivated discrimination, harassment and retaliation in the aftermath of the ouster of a Latino police official in 2002, according to the officers’ attorney.

Sixteen police officers filed suits against South Gate, a working-class, predominantly Latino city with an annual budget of about $100 million, alleging that they were subjected to racial slurs and false internal affairs investigations, unfairly disciplined, and passed up for promotions. Many said they were discriminated because of their association with Rick Lopez, a former acting police chief.

The settlements, the last of which was finalized, include the claims of four officers who won a $10.4-million jury verdict in 2007 and former Assistant Chief Mark Van Holt, who was awarded $4.2 million by a jury in a retaliation suit against the city. Those verdicts were challenged on appeal by the city and settled for undisclosed amounts that are part of the $18 million, said Bradley Gage, the officers’ attorney.

Some of the officers said they were blacklisted and harassed for testifying at the 2007 trial.

At the time of the verdict in that case, city representatives said the Police Department’s employment practices had since been revamped, and that more minorities were being hired and promoted.

According to the plaintiffs’ lawsuits, the alleged harassment stemmed from a political scandal that roiled the city beginning in 2001, when the City Council appointed Lopez, then the police chief of Maywood, to head South Gate’s police force. The appointment led to a recall of council members and the eventual ouster of Lopez and two deputies.

Lopez’s departure came amid criticism of his annual salary and compensation, and concerns over his links with then-city treasurer Albert Robles, who was later sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for stealing public funds.

The officers — who are Latino, black and Caucasian — said they were threatened and harassed by the department’s leaders in a racially charged environment following the political turmoil. The jury in the 2007 trial rejected the argument that the officers were discriminated against because of their race, but agreed that they were discriminated against because of Lopez’s race and national origin.

Gage told the judge at a hearing that the sum of the settlement had already been paid into a trust account by the city’s insurer. The settlement is the maximum covered under the city’s policy and will not come out of city funds, Gage said.

If you or a family member has been subjected to wrongful termination or employment discrimination, then please contact the Fort Worth Texas Employment Discrimination Attorney Dr. Shezad Malik. For a no obligation, free case analysis, please call 817-255-4001 or Contact Me Online.

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