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2 Santa Barbara Officers Awarded $3.2 Million in Gender Bias Suit

Police: The women accused the department of discrimination. After a two-year legal battle, officials vow improvements.

May 09, 2002|WILLIAM OVEREND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two Santa Barbara police officers have won $3.2 million in damages in their two-year legal battle charging harassment and systematic discrimination against female officers.

The case, which included charges that plaintiffs Juanita Smith and Margaret Hause had received warnings to "watch their back" on patrol, had become an increasing embarrassment to city officials. The officials said Wednesday that changes have begun.

"I think the significance of the jury award was that jurors couldn't believe how hard the city dug its heels in on this," said attorney David Nye, one of two lawyers representing the officers. "The case was filed two years ago, and they were just trying to bring the department into the modern age."

A jury awarded the damages on Tuesday after a 19-day trial.

Shortly before the trial began, according to Nye and attorney Janean Acavedo Daniels, Smith was promoted to sergeant, but was given the job of supervising parking checkers. That made her the first female sergeant in the department's 102-history.

Lt. Michael Apland, a police spokesman, said Wednesday that Police Chief Cam Sanchez was not in office when the suit was filed and plans to improve the department's dealings with women officers.

"It's unfortunate that we got sued, but good things can come out of this," Apland said.

The Santa Barbara force has 154 sworn officers, including 10 women, Apland said. He said Sanchez will meet with the entire department next week and will hold a separate meeting with women officers.

In announcing its decision, the jury specified $1.85 million in damages for Smith and $1.35 million for Hause, a community relations officer. Nye said both officers will ask Superior Court Judge James Brown to order the city to pay their court costs, which are expected to run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

City officials said they have not decided whether to appeal the decision or challenge the jury award.

The decision by city officials to fight the lawsuit for two years was similar to a stance taken by city officials in another case that had embarrassing racial overtones for Santa Barbara almost two decades ago.

Three members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team had been held by police at gunpoint and forced to lie spread-eagled on the ground on a busy Santa Barbara street because they appeared to match the general description of suspected bank robbers.

The Globetrotters, in Santa Barbara for an exhibition game against UC Santa Barbara, filed a $3-million federal lawsuit against the city, contending that they were arrested because of their race.

They settled the suit for $75,000 after about a year of negotiation, saying that they had made their point.

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