JURY AWARDS MILLIONS TO LATINO POLICE OFFICERS IN MALDEF SUIT AGAINST OC POLICE DEPARTMENT
Verdict Exposes Ongoing Pattern of Discriminatory Retaliation at Westminster Department
SANTA ANA, CA - MALDEF and co-counsel J. Bernard Alexander has secured victory in Flores v. City of Westminster, a lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California in which attorneys successfully asserted the rights of three accomplished Latino police officers who were consistently denied coveted promotions and special assignments in retaliation for their complaints of discrimination. The jury found that the three Latino officers had indeed been denied special assignments that groom them for promotion within the department, and awarded the officers $3.55 million in damages.
Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel, stated, "Exposing unlawful and discriminatory actions within law enforcement is never easy. Today's verdict is a resounding demonstration of the need for further change in the Westminster Police Department, and we urge the city to work toward a department that serves the entire community, internal and external, with fairness and justice."
J. Bernard Alexander,of ALEXANDER KRAKOW + GLICK LLP, MALDEF's co-counsel, stated, "This was a hard fought victory for very qualified and deserving officers. The jury sent a clear message that promotions and special assignments should be based on objective criteria, devoid of racial preferences. We trust that the City of Westminster will hear the jury and create objective promotion criteria, that removes race from the equation."
MALDEF and co-counsel argued that the Latino officers had been relegated to dead-end, second tier assignments, and that after filing complaints in 2010, the officers experienced severe workplace retaliation from superiors in the form of written reprimands, superfluous internal affairs investigations, negative reviews, and suspension. The jury agreed that the Westminster Police Department had unlawfully retaliated against the three Latino police officers in violation of California's Fair Employment and Housing Act and 42 U.S.C. Section 1981.
"This is a historic victory for the Latino Officers who stepped forward because this large award will send a message across the state. The jury let police departments know that they cannot get away with discriminating," stated Victor Viramontes, MALDEF National Senior Counsel.
Officers Jose Flores, Ryan Reyes and Brian Perez were denied assignments that would have led to their advancement on the force. The lawsuit argued that Latino officers on the force were routinely assigned to patrol a local mall. The three officers have worked at Westminster Police Department for at least ten years.
The plaintiffs included an active-duty Major in the U.S. Marine Corps, who has been promoted four times by the Marines; a long-serving police officer recognized with numerous awards including the MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Award and the Centurion Award; and an officer who has been granted in excess of ten commendations by the Westminster Police Department, has been twice awarded the Bronze medal of merit, including for saving someone's life, and was recognized as Rookie of the Year in his first year with the Department.
Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org.
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