A judge Friday denied a motion by the city of Gardena to pare a former police lieutenant’s lawsuit alleging he was fired in 2019 because he is gay and has HIV.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Terry Green said there were enough facts in former Lt. Steven Prendergast’s lawsuit for now to support his cause of action for medical condition discrimination. The allegation was the only one the city sought to dismiss in the suit, which also alleges sexual orientation discrimination, disability discrimination and failure to prevent discrimination.
Lawyers for the city maintained in their court papers that the medical condition discrimination cause of action should be tossed because HIV does not qualify as a medical condition under the state Fair Employment and Housing Act. The defense also maintained the claim was duplicative of the disability discrimination cause of action.
In their court papers, lawyers for the plaintiffs maintained the two causes of action are different theories of recovery and that legal cases exist allowing claims for medical condition discrimination based on HIV.
Prendergast says he began working for the city as a police officer in 1995 and received regular promotions. Prendergast is gay, has HIV and married his husband in 2018, according to his suit filed May 8.
Prendergast alleges his police colleagues made insensitive remarks regarding gay people, and that he was denied access to his choice of medical care because of his HIV.
In May 2019, Prendergast attended National Police Week in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the life of a fallen Gardena police officer, but when he returned, he was falsely accused of inappropriately touching two subordinate police officers who also went to the event, the suit alleges.
“Lt. Prendergast did not recall engaging in such activity, but is well aware of many non-homosexual police officers that have engaged in such acts during his tenure with the city, including within the past year,” the suit states.
Numerous Gardena police officers were present and none recalled seeing him touch anyone in an unseemly way, according to Prendergast’s court papers.
“Instead, because Lt. Prendergast is homosexual and has been diagnosed with HIV, the city wrongfully terminated his employment,” the suit alleges.
An investigation conducted by Chief Michael Saffell into the allegations against Prendergast “was a farce that was intended solely to give the city the pretextual reason to terminate Lt. Prendergast,” according to the suit, who also alleges that Gardena officers who were not gay and admitted to committing a battery against their colleagues were not fired.
The judge scheduled trial of Prendergast’s case for Oct. 4, 2021.