A veteran Los Angeles police sergeant who sued the city, alleging he was denied promotions in retaliation for taking time off to fulfill military obligations, can take his case to trial, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Sgt. Chad Lewis’ Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges retaliation and discrimination based on military status. He is seeking unspecified damages.
Judge Joanne O’Donnell denied a motion filed by the City Attorney’s Office to dismiss Lewis’ case, finding that the case should to go trial despite Deputy City Attorney Douglas Lyon’s argument that the plaintiff’s evidence supporting his military discrimination claim was thin. But the judge said Lyon may have better luck by using the same reasoning before a jury.
“If you use that as a closing argument it could be quite effective, but I’m finding there are triable issues,” O’Donnell said.
Lewis joined the LAPD more than two decades ago. His suit, filed in July 2017, states that Lewis is a reserve member of the military reserve forces and is assigned to the LAPD’s West Valley station. In January 2016, his supervisor, Lt. Kirk Kelley, wrote Lewis an email stating that he was being denied time off to take part in military service because he “must recognize that the LAPD is his primary employment,” according to the complaint.
Lewis says he gave Kelley information, available on the LAPD website, that outlined his right to be excused from work for military duty and to not be discriminated against because of his service obligations.
Kelley relented, but told Lewis, “If you’re going to waive this (military rights) information at me, we need to talk about your work ethic,” according to the complaint.
That same month, Kelley and then-West Valley Capt. Paul Vernon were among those who interviewed the plaintiff as he sought a promotion from sergeant 1 to sergeant 2, according to the plaintiff. Lewis was denied the position even though he had more seniority and was more qualified than others given the job, his suit alleges.
In May and June 2016, Lewis took two weeks off for military training. During that time, Vernon announced that Lewis’ grade as a sergeant was being reduced to one that offered him less priority concerning scheduling and assignments, according to the lawsuit.
Vernon and a West Valley captain also denied Lewis a coveted “complaint sergeant” position that is generally considered a path to promotion, the suit states. Lewis’ background made him better suited for the post than the person selected, according to his court papers, which also say he was given a “frivolous” comment sheet criticizing his work performance.
“I’m getting a hard time over my military,” Lewis complained to one of his captains, according to his lawsuit.
Lewis alleges he was repeatedly denied requests to work holidays and earn overtime wages, even though he was the senior sergeant on his shift.
Lewis was hospitalized in May 2017 for stress related to the LAPD’s alleged discriminatory practices and has not returned to duty, according to his suit.
In his court papers, Lyon said Lewis’ own statements contradict his military discrimination claim.
“In fact, plaintiff testified that the LAPD always accommodated his requests for days off when he needed to report for military service,” Lyon’s court papers state.