A lawyer representing four members of the Beverly Hills Police Department told a jury Tuesday that his clients are entitled to millions of dollars for being subjected to disparate treatment by Chief Sandra Spagnoli, the first woman in the city’s history to be named to the post when she was selected in 2016.
Attorney Bradley Gage said Spagnoli also made inappropriate comments about age, ethnicity and religion that included calling Catholicism a “cult” and describing the common headwear of Jewish men as “funny hats.”
“It’s pretty fundamental and clear, you’re not supposed to do that,” Gage told jurors during final arguments in the trial of his clients’ Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit.
But lawyer Brian Walter, on behalf of the city, said Spagnoli apologized and was reprimanded by the city for tasteless statements she did say, but that she was also blamed for having made remarks she actually never uttered.
Walters said Spagnoli upset some members of the department who were more accustomed to the previous regime of longtime chief Dave Snowden, who held the job for 12 years.
“She was brought in with a mandate to change the department,” Walter said, noting the chief was criticized by some for scrutinizing a $100 expense in a department with a multimillion-dollar budget.
“We think that’s a good thing for the chief to be doing,” Walter said.
Gage acknowledged that the atmosphere in the department was upbeat when Spagnoli arrived because many were excited about seeing a woman in the role of chief for the first time. But then the chief began learning about the personal backgrounds of the BHPD employees, finding out that some are gay and observe faiths different from hers, Gage said.
“The comments were all pleasant in the beginning,” Gage said. “Things changed.”
The plaintiffs are Lieutenants Renato Moreno, Shan Davis and Michael Foxen, 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 deposition testimony on behalf of former Capt. Mark Rosen, who also sued the city for discrimination and retaliation and settled for $2.3 million. Rosen, who is Jewish, maintained Spagnoli make remarks offensive to people of his ethnicity.
Moreno said that after testifying on Rosen’s behalf, he was given fewer choice assignments, lost job benefits and pay and was subjected to improper internal investigations.
Moreno also said that shortly after the chief was hired, he overheard her talking to a Catholic priest and asking him several times if he would baptize her, then say she was not serious. He said she also heard Spagnoli suggest that a rabbi in the community may have embezzled money promised for the purchase of a drone for the department.
Moreno said that during a meeting in which she talked about the importance of loyalty, Spagnoli frequently glanced at Foxen.
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. The chief never gave an explanation to justify lowering Norris’ evaluation, according to Davis.
Moreno also said when Davis made recommendations during meetings, Spagnoli “didn’t give him the time of day.”
Spagnoli, who testified that she was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and is now a practicing Catholic, said she was reprimanded by city management for her remarks and ordered to undergo sensitivity training. She denied she was racist, homophobic or prejudiced against anyone because of their religion.
Spagnoli, 51, previously was the police chief for the cities of Benicia and San Leandro in northern California, where she grew up.
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