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First Woman Police Sergeant Loses Bias Suit

December 02, 1987|JOHN SPANO | Times Staff Writer

Bonnie Jean McClain, Orange County's first female police sergeant, failed to prove that she was discriminated against by a conspiracy of male superiors, jurors decided Tuesday.

McClain said she will appeal the 9-3 verdict. Jurors deliberated for five days--one day longer than it took to present the evidence.

"It wasn't easy for anybody in there," said foreman Armond Briggs, 49, an aerospace worker from Huntington Beach.

'It Wasn't Proved'

"In everybody's hearts . . . we felt there was discrimination," Briggs said. "But the way the vote went, we felt it wasn't proved."

McClain, 39, was the first female patrol officer in Santa Ana. In 1978, she was selected from a panel of three candidates for promotion to sergeant. McClain failed a six-month probationary period, and her demotion was confirmed by a special review.

The only witness for the city, former Santa Ana Police Chief Raymond C. Davis, testified that he picked McClain for the position because he wanted to promote a woman.

"She just didn't make it as a sergeant," Davis testified.

McClain collected $1,500 in the settlement of a separate lawsuit against the city alleging federal sex discrimination. Shortly after she was demoted, she was placed on disability retirement.

"We are satisfied that the correct verdict was reached, and we're happy with it, of course," said Charles W. Matheis Jr., lawyer for the city.

McClain's lawyer, Carrie MacMillin, argued that the situation was stacked against McClain from the moment she was selected as sergeant.

Her six-month probation was split in half--an approach never before used, MacMillin said. McClain got rave reviews for the first three months then was rated unsatisfactory in a number of areas for the last three months.

McClain was the only woman ever to reach sergeant and the only officer of either sex ever to fail probation for the position, MacMillin said.

McClain, who had asked for more than $400,000, said the verdict will set back the cause of equal employment opportunity in the department.

"Not enough has been done. It's been eight years since I've been there, and they still don't have women in middle management. They keep them in convenient positions."

"What the women have to go through discourages other women from coming into the business," McClain said.

McClain failed probation because of errors in judgment, lack of command experience, and the inability to get along with peers and subordinates, Davis testified.

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