Three female officers were awarded $3.5 million Monday by a jury that found that the Glendale Police Department had failed to protect them from on-the-job discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation.
The Los Angeles jury of nine men and three women deliberated for three weeks before finding the city liable for maintaining a hostile work environment at the Glendale Police Department. The lawsuit contended that sexually explicit videos were shown at roll call, that superiors made unwanted advances and that the women were subjected to retaliation after they refused the alleged advances.
Jurors rejected separate sex discrimination claims made by each plaintiff.
Jamie Franke, 36, and Renae Kerner, 40, were each awarded $1.3 million and Kathryn Frieders, 31, was awarded $850,000.
"We felt that the city of Glendale was mistreating its employees," said attorney Bradley Gage, who represents the three officers. "We hope they will accept the verdict and make some changes."
But defense attorney Irma Rodriguez Moisa accused the plaintiffs, who are still Glendale police officers, of lying to secure "the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow." She said she will recommend that the Glendale City Council appeal.
Gage said Kerner has been hospitalized for chest pains resulting from stress, Frieders suffers from panic attacks and depression, and Franke has ulcers.
The city of Glendale, which has spent $1 million to defend the case, did not offer to settle the case before trial, Moisa said. The city is self-insured.
Outside the courtroom Monday, each officer expressed hope that she will continue to work as a police officer in Glendale.
"I feel pleased and relieved," said Franke, after the verdict was read. "I hope this is a catalyst for change for women in every [police] department."
"Our whole mission was to improve our department," Kerner added. "I hope we are able to continue there in a different environment."
The officers said they were groped and asked out on dates by their supervisors even while they were still probationary officers, according to their lawsuit, which was filed in December 2001.
Frieders testified that she began dating a supervisor, Sgt. Mark Hansen, in 1996 while a probationary officer because she feared that he could have prevented her from getting the job. He was reprimanded in 1999, Gage said.
The lawsuit also alleged that Sgt. Fran Judge asked Kerner to have sex with him, and that his reputation for sexual misconduct, including a rape allegation, contributed to the officers' hostile work environment. He was suspended for three days in connection with eight allegations of sexual harassment over a six-year period ending in 2000, according to Gage. Judge is currently on medical leave, Gage said.
Kerner testified that after she complained about Sgt. William Halverson in 2001, he "dry-fired" his weapon at her twice outside the women's locker room in the police station. Halverson, who denied the allegation, was never disciplined but retired after the suit was filed, Gage said.
In retaliation for their complaints, the officers alleged, they were denied transfers to better assignments and received harsher discipline, including probation, for lesser offenses than their male counterparts.
In another case, the sergeant now in charge of internal affairs, Darrell York, ran a pornographic Web site that he accessed at work at least once in 1999, according to trial testimony. York was later suspended for 12 hours, Gage said.
Juror Ruben Ortiz said he was surprised such conduct would take place inside a police department. While the conduct alleged by each defendant might seem less significant on its own, Ortiz said, "you put three of them together and you get a pattern."
Jury foreman Norman Mitchell said the panel thought some of the acts, such as putting Franke on probation after 11 years in the department, were retaliatory.
"Somebody should have stood up and said, 'That is not fair,' " Mitchell said.
About 10% of Glendale's 244-officer police force is female; two women hold the rank of sergeant or higher, according to Police Chief Randy G. Adams.
Adams, who became chief four months ago, said he has a "zero-tolerance" policy on sexual harassment and conduct leading to a hostile work environment.
He said he plans to work with lawyers to determine whether the allegations involve conduct that already has been remedied or if there are additional unresolved issues.
Adams said he expects his officers to treat the plaintiffs professionally, regardless of what they think of the verdict.
"I expect them to put it behind them and move on," he said.
Moisa, the city's attorney, said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Harold I. Cherness should have instructed jurors that many of the events alleged took place after the one-year statute of limitations had passed. She said some of the allegations, dating back to 1996, were "old and stale."
The trial dragged on for months. The first panel was excused after four members became ill. A new trial began in February, but was put on hold while the judge, David Workman, had back surgery. Cherness took over the trial in mid-April, reconvening the same panel after a hiatus.