The Los Angeles Police Department was one of the first in the nation actively hiring LGBT law enforcement officers in the late 90s. Yet a recent report by USA Today detailed the ways in which law enforcement officers in California who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender were allegedly discriminated against for their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
In one case, plaintiff, a gay black man, said his fellow officers at the state highway patrol said that not only was the harassment demeaning (tying hangers in the shape of penises around the area of his locker, lobbing homophobic slurs at him, carving his name off an award plaque), it put his life at risk. When he called for backup during tense vehicle impoundments, high-speed stolen car pursuits or investigations into hit-and-run accidents, his fellow officers wouldn’t even respond. This led to a workplace environment that was not only hostile, but dangerous. And it’s been going on for years. Even as a cadet at the state highway patrol, a fellow cadet put a gun to his head, saying he knew he was a homosexual and threatening to pull the trigger.
Plaintiff filed one complaint after another internally. Supervisors, he alleges, did nothing. So three years ago, he sued the California State Highway Patrol for LGBT workplace discrimination. He cited 20 years of discrimination and harassment. His was one in a wave of lawsuits asserting anti-gay discrimination by law enforcement agents. Many of them describe workplace environments that were abusive and hostile. Some said they were subjected cruel taunts – on top of limitations on career opportunities. Their work standards were starkly different compared to other officers. They were passed over for key promotions. They were denied protection on-the-job. All of it, our LGBT discrimination attorneys understand, came down to their sexual orientation.
Since 2016, there have been nearly a dozen California LGBT discrimination lawsuits filed against law enforcement nationally. As our Los Angeles LGBT employment discrimination attorneys well know, this problem isn’t new. The difference is officers are demanding action be taken. After decades of unanswered and ignored internal complaints, they’re taking it to the courts.
Because law enforcement agencies require such complaints go all the way through a chain of command before civil discrimination lawsuits are filed, what we’re seeing now are the very few cases that weren’t resolved through that process and are just making it to court.
- In New Jersey, an officer asserted that both his colleagues and supervisors taunted him constantly because of his sexual orientation, both in person and on group texts.
- Another New Jersey police officer, veteran of 22 years and also a lesbian, was reportedly subjected to frequent harassment, including a chief who grabbed her genitals on numerous occasions – in front of other officers – and referred to male officers by an offensive name for female genitalia to degrade them.
- In Missouri, a sergeant with the county police alleged his employer denied him numerous promotions despite his qualifications. He was expressly instructed by a superior to “tone down your gayness” if he ever wanted to make it to the next rank.
The University of California Los Angeles’ Williams Institute conducted a study recently of LGBT discrimination in law enforcement for more than a dozen years, beginning in 2000. In what is believed to be the biggest study of its kind, researchers found that in that time, nearly 50 law enforcement employees and applicants filed lawsuits for LGBT discrimination.
The uptick in litigation may be due in part to the fact that fewer LGBT officers were “out” in the 1980s and 1990s. That’s changed in the last 20 years. Plus, more states adopted employment protections for LGBT workers, meaning those harassed felt more empowered to come forward, as they had a real shot at success.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
LGBT police officers say they’ve faced horrible discrimination, and now they’re suing, Feb. 8, 2019, By Kirstin Lam, USA Today
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Black Hair Discrimination at Work? California Bill Would Trim Employer Pretext for Racial Bias, Jan. 21, 2019, Los Angeles LGBT Employment Discrimination Blog