The Beverly Hills police chief denied Thursday that she made stereotypical remarks about Jewish people or that she retaliated against members of the department when making job assignments.
Chief Sandra Spagnoli told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury that when she asked now-retired Capt. Mark Rosen, who is Jewish, if people of his faith celebrate Thanksgiving, she did so for “operational reasons” and that her inquiry was not mean to disparage his religion.
Asked whether she also asked Rosen why Jewish people wear “funny hats,” the chief replied, “That’s not how that happened.”
The chief also denied making a stereotypical remark about Jewish people’s noses.
However, Spagnoli said she did engage in banter when she first arrived in 2016 that she now regrets because she realizes it was offensive to some people. She said the city later reprimanded her and that she was ordered to undergo sensitivity training.
“Looking back, I never intended to offend anyone … and I certainly learned a lesson,” Spagnoli said.
Spagnoli’s alleged remarks about the religion and sexual orientation of members of the department are at the center of a lawsuit filed against the city of Beverly Hills in December 2017 that is now being tried before a jury in Los Angeles Superior Court. The plaintiffs are Lieutenants Renato Moreno, Michael Foxen and Shan Davis, and civilian employee Dona Norris, who is the BHPD’s public safety 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 alleges.
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.
Spagnoli testified that Norris made a good impression on her when the two met shortly after the chief was hired. She denied any wrongdoing concerning Norris’ evaluation. She also denied Davis’ allegation that she did not want to appear in a department photo with Norris because Norris is gay.
Spagnoli said she attended a wedding between two gay women and that she counts gay people among her friends and associates.
The chief acknowledged she was wrong to ask Moreno if she should dress in Mexican attire after he offered to hold a holiday party at his home.
“I just wish I had never said that and if I could take it back I would,” Spagnoli said.
Spagnoli denied she is anti-Catholic, saying she now practices the faith herself after being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. She said she regrets saying in the workplace that all religions are cults.
The 51-year-old chief denied she was insensitive toward older people.
She also testified that she was eager to move forward with many changes in the BHPD when she was hired, all aimed at improving the department as a whole. She said was met with some resistance and now believes she should have done things at a slower pace.
The chief said assignments she made within the department, including those affecting lieutenants, were done for legitimate reasons and followed a natural rotation that aided individuals in their professional development. She denied that any of the changes were retaliatory.
Spagnoli said neither Rosen nor Moreno ever told her they thought her remarks were improper and that if they had, she would have apologized and stopped immediately.
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