L.A. pays $1.5 million in racial harassment case

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LAPD Headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.

LAPD Headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles City Council signed off this week on a $1.5-million payment to a black police officer who said he repeatedly experienced racial harassment and a hostile work environment while working for the Police Department.

Earl Wright, an LAPD officer since 1989, sued the city two years ago, saying he was repeatedly humiliated by co-workers who carried out racial pranks and made derogatory remarks.

The council’s payment comes at a time when city leaders are reexamining workplace training for city employees. Council President Herb Wesson and Councilwoman Nury Martinezhave called for a dramatic expansion in the number of city workers who take sexual harassment training. That training also offers information on issues surrounding race and ethnicity, a high-level official in the personnel department said.

Martinez said she offered the proposal, in part, as a response to two lawsuits: One alleges that Councilman Jose Huizarengaged in sexual harassment. The other accuses John Lee, chief of staff to Councilman Mitchell Englander, of making inappropriate sexual jokes and comments. Both Englander and Huizar have called the allegations in the respective lawsuits false.

According to the LAPD lawsuit, Wright asked a white supervisor on one occasion if he could leave work early and was told “Why? You gotta go pick watermelons?” In another incident, Wright was presented by the supervisor with a cake topped with a fried chicken leg and a slice of watermelon, the lawsuit states.

During the four-day trial, lawyers for the city tried to portray Wright as a willing participant in the jokes made by his colleagues. Police Chief Charlie Beck responded to the verdict by saying that he was “truly saddened by the events that occurred in that work environment perpetrated by a few individuals, including Officer Wright.”

A jury awarded Wright $1.2 million in March. Another $300,000 will go toward such costs as attorneys’ fees, said Gregory Smith, Wright’s lawyer. The council voted unanimously to make the payment on Wednesday.

Courtesy of Los Angeles Times

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