Testifying Friday in trial of a lawsuit brought by four members of the Beverly Hills Police Department, who allege they have been subjected to discrimination and harassment under the leadership of Chief Sandra Spagnoli, a civilian member of the force said she heard the chief ask an inappropriate question about Jewish men’s headwear.
Sylvia Gelfman, a records and jail manager for the BHPD, said that during a management meeting before the 2016 Jewish holidays, Spagnoli asked about the “funny hats” Jewish men wear when referring to the yarmulke.
“I was surprised she would say something like that,” said Gelfman, a Latina whose husband is Jewish. “It was very insensitive.”
The plaintiffs in the Los Angeles Superior Court trial are Lieutenants Renato Moreno, Michael Foxen and Shan Davis, and civilian employee Dona Norris, who is the BHPD’s public safey communications and evidence manager.
Moreno maintains he has endured “pervasive” anti-Latino and anti-Catholic discrimination under Spagnoli and that matters came to a head when he provided testimony on behalf of former Capt. Mark Rosen, who also sued the city for discrimination and retaliation and settled for $2.3 million. Moreno also alleges he was given fewer choice assignments, lost job benefits and pay and was subjected to improper internal investigations.
Foxen maintains he suffered a backlash when he notified management that Officer Lisa Weller, who is gay, was paid less than a heterosexual male officer with the same experience.
Davis was Norris’ supervisor and alleges Spagnoli directed him to lower Norris’ performance evaluation because she is gay.
After standing up for Norris and refusing to comply with Spagnoli’s alleged order, Davis was passed over for promotions and transferred to a less prestigious position, the suit states.
After finding out that Norris was gay, Spagnoli refused to provide her the necessary support staff and eliminated her promotional opportunities, according to the complaint.
In her testimony, Gelfman said she worked with Norris on projects and that the plaintiff performed her part of the tasks very well. Gelfman said that when Spagnoli spoke with Norris and Davis, the chief’s tone was not the same as with other employees. For example, she described the chief’s tone toward Davis as “dismissive.”
When Spagnoli was invited to a party at Moreno’s home, she asked if she had to “dress Mexican,” Gelfman testified.
Gelfman said she didn’t report the chief’s allegedly insensitive remarks because she didn’t believe the city offered her sufficient protection against retaliation.
Another witness, forensic specialist Clark Fogg, said he was 55 years old when he met Spagnoli shortly after she was hired in 2016. During their meeting, she made about a half dozen ageist remarks and suggested he retire, Fogg said. She eventually removed him as supervisor of the crime lab without a drop in salary and replaced him with a less experienced sergeant, he said.
Fogg, now 57, acknowledged that some women who worked for him complained about being called “girls” and another demeaning labels. He also said he has sued the city alleging harassment and discrimination. Trial of his case is scheduled for July 17.
Spagnoli previously was the police chief for the cities of Benicia and San Leandro in northern California.
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