A Los Angeles jury on Tuesday upheld allegations of workplace harassment and retaliation against Beverly Hills Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli, marking the latest defeat in a string of lawsuits lobbed at the chief from inside her own agency.
Beverly Hills Police Lts. Renato Moreno, Michael Foxen and Shan Davis and a civilian employee named Dona Norris were awarded $1.1 million after three days of deliberations by the jury, said Brad Gage, an attorney representing a number of people with claims against the chief. Moreno was awarded $350,000, while each of the other plaintiffs was granted $250,000 each, according to a statement from the city.
Spagnoli became the city’s first female police chief in 2016, and her tenure has been marked by repeated allegations that she made derogatory comments about the religions, sexual orientation and ethnicity of subordinates.
At least 21 current and former department employees have filed civil lawsuits or employment complaints that accuse Spagnoli of a range of misconduct, according to court records reviewed by The Times.
The city paid $2.3 million in December to settle the first of those claims, brought by retired Capt. Mark Rosen, who accused Spagnoli of making anti-Semitic remarks and denying him promotional opportunities based on his religion.
According to the lawsuit that resulted in Tuesday’s verdict, Spagnoli reacted with disgust when she was told Norris was a lesbian. The chief also was accused of asking whether she would have to “dress Mexican” if she attended a holiday party hosted by Moreno.
Moreno and Foxen also said they were punished by Spagnoli for giving depositions favorable to Rosen’s case, according to court documents.
The jury rejected claims of racial discrimination but upheld the other allegations.
Gage said last year that he had been made aware of additional allegations of misconduct against the chief and that the number of employees suing her could balloon to 30. Those other suits, however, have yet to be filed.
“I think the city needs to wake up and smell the coffee, as they say,” Gage said Tuesday. “It needs to realize that there is a problem in the 90210 that needs to be corrected, and the fact that so many other people are coming forward — with a jury finding four different employees are victims of harassment or retaliation — that’s significant.”
City officials said in a statement that they disagreed with parts of the verdict, and they echoed earlier comments from Spagnoli that the slew of lawsuits are the result of anger at reforms she has made to the department. Last year, the chief told The Times that she had modified the agency’s disciplinary system and command structure shortly after taking office.
“The city remains committed to the police chief and her efforts to reform the department, and condemns those who are undermining those efforts,” the statement read.
City spokesman Keith Sterling said Beverly Hills had also settled a discrimination lawsuit Tuesday that was brought by former forensic laboratory employee Clark Fogg, who alleged he was denied a supervisory position because of his age. The claim named Spagnoli and several other Police Department employees.
Sterling said the city believes the claim was without merit, but decided to settle for $300,000. Fogg will retire under the terms of the settlement.
The hiring of Spagnoli, a veteran law enforcement officer who previously served as the chief of the San Leandro and Benicia police departments in Northern California, was met with much praise in 2016 after the city’s former chief retired amid questions that he was drawing a second salary from a private-sector job.
Spagnoli received a glowing write-up in Vogue, and she has served as a board member for the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police, which recently gave her an award for “accomplishments which have paved the way for other women in public safety.”
In reference to the alleged racist and anti-Semitic remarks, Spagnoli said in an interview with The Times last year that she was “not racist,” but she stopped short of denying that she had made the comments.
During the civil trial, Spagnoli admitted to making some of the remarks she was accused of but said she didn’t intend for them to be offensive.