A female Long Beach police detective who maintains she was denied a job as a helicopter pilot because she is a woman testified under cross-examination Friday that no one in the 800-member department told her that her gender was a factor in her not getting the position.
Detective Wendy Starbird, questioned by Deputy City Attorney Haleh Jenkins, also told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing trial of her gender discrimination suit that she had nothing in writing from anyone in the LBPD to support her claim and that she did not complain to management that she was denied the position because she was female.
Starbird, a 19-year LBPD veteran, said during direct examination Thursday that she had no doubt her sex was the reason she did not get the pilot job when an opening occurred in 2014. She maintains she was again denied a position as a pilot the next year in retaliation for filing her discrimination suit against the city in April 2014.
Starbird says she believes that the department manipulated the results of her performance during a training scenario in which she dragged a “downed officer” from a building as a pretext to deny her the first job when her gender was the real reason.
She said she was criticized for allegedly not following proper procedures during the scenario, an allegation she denies and says was “devastating” because it hurt her reputation within the department.
“It’s like being called a coward,” the 41-year-old detective testified. “People wouldn’t know if they could trust me or trust my reactions.”
Lawyers for the city maintain that in each case the pilot jobs were given to more qualified candidates who happened to be men. No other females were vying for the job.
Starbird joined the department in 1997 and was promoted to detective in 2002. She testified she has performed numerous ancillary duties that have included serving as an AR-15 rifle instructor, driving a tactical armored vehicle and being a hostage negotiator. He said she her current duties include helping provide protection for Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia.
But she says it was her work as a tactical flight officer assisting helicopter pilots in the air by operating the spotlight and tracking suspect vehicles that made her decide to throw her hat in the ring for both of the pilot positions that opened up in consecutive years.
Starbird said that after the 2014 job was given to a male applicant, she asked for an explanation. She said that during a meeting with a sergeant and a lieutenant, both men said she “froze” during the mock scenario staged during emergency medical training which was conducted to assess whether participants made sound decisions under stress.
Starbird said she never “froze” during the training or at any other time during her LBPD career. She said her current job of protecting the mayor, for example, calls for her to make split-second decisions when someone approaches the city’s leader in public and assess whether they want to do something as innocent as take a “selfie” with Garcia or cause him harm.
Lawyers for the city say Starbird quit her ancillary positions after she was passed over the 2014 pilot opening and that her decisions hurt her chances of getting the later job. But Starbird said she believed she had little choice but to cut back on those other voluntary duties, including her TFO job.
“I felt I had to insulate myself from the people who were doing this,” Starbird said.
Today, Starbird said, she feels she has a “target on her back” within the LBPD and that the alleged discrimination she has suffered has been “life- changing” for her.
Starbird said the related stress has caused her to suffer from hives, headaches and nightmares.
“Everything I’ve worked for in my career has been destroyed,” Starbird said.
–City News Service