A jury awarded more than $1 million in damages Wednesday to a Los Angeles police detective who claimed she was demoted in retaliation for accusing her former boss of promoting other women employees in exchange for sexual favors.
The detective, Ya-May Christle, alleged in her suit against the city that she suffered retaliation after complaining about Michael Berkow, a former Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief.
Berkow, who headed the Internal Affairs Division before leaving late last year to become police chief in Savannah, Ga., acknowledged in a deposition a three-year affair with a female sergeant in his unit. But he denied favoring her or any other employee because of a sexual relationship.
He was dropped as a defendant in the case last month when Judge William Fahey dismissed the plaintiff's claims of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. The jury, in addition, rejected Christle's claims that, as an Asian American, she was a victim of racial discrimination and that her rights as a police officer were infringed.
Still, after six days of testimony and a little more than a day of deliberations, the jury found in favor of Christle, 43, on her retaliation claim. She alleged that she was demoted three levels from her job as a sergeant in internal affairs to her current job as a detective in the Northeast Division and suffered a loss of pay.
The jury awarded Christle nearly $1.07 million in damages, including more than $800,000 for emotional distress.
Her lawyer, Bradley C. Gage, said the jury's decision "proves what we've been saying all along, that my client was a victim of retaliation when she reported acts of misconduct."
Gage said that after complaining about Berkow, Christle, who's been with the department 18 years, including three years under Berkow in internal affairs, saw that "her career as she knew it was gone. She went from being this employee who basically walked on water to being someone that was just messed with."
Gage, who said he would have settled the case for less than $1 million if the city would have accepted an out-of-court agreement, added that the verdict "shows that the city's current position to be tough on every case, and refuse to settle anything, is a ridiculous position. [Mayor] Antonio Villaraigosa should wake up and realize that retaliation is a serious problem in the city of Los Angeles."
Villaraigosa's office could not be reached for comment.
Clint Robison, one of the city's lawyers, said he was pleased that most of Christle's contentions had been rejected.
He said the finding on the retaliation claim "doesn't reflect the evidence that was presented." Robison said the city's lawyers will consider whether to appeal.