A Torrance police captain who sued the city alleging he suffered a backlash when he complained that former Chief Mark Matsuda created a hostile work environment by sexually harassing women and making offensive comments can take his case to trial, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mel Red Recana denied a motion by lawyers for Torrance to deny either of Capt. Martin Vukotic’s two retaliation allegations, finding there were triable issues on both. Trial is scheduled for June 28.
In their court papers, lawyers for Torrance denied any wrongdoing on the part of their client.
“Vukotic cannot meet his burden of proof on his retaliation claims,” the city’s court papers stated. “He can point to no evidence establishing a causal link between any allegedly adverse employment action taken by the city and any protected activity taken by Vukotic.”
Matsuda retired from the Torrance Police Department in the summer of 2017, just months after being suspended for allegedly making hostile remarks about women, blacks, gays and Muslims. Matsuda was the department’s 11th chief.
Vukotic began working as a Torrance police officer in August 1995, his suit states. In 2014-16, Vukotic heard Matsuda “repeatedly display hostility toward his own female and/or gay employees” by referring to them and other women with a derogatory term, the suit states.
Three of the targets of Matsuda’s remarks were City Treasurer Dana Cortez, former Manhattan Beach Police Department Chief Eve Berg — who retired as chief of the TPD on Jan. 8 — and Torrance police training manager Laurie Anderson, who the chief said had a “lesbian hairdo,” according to the complaint.
Matsuda said in 2015 that two female detectives could shower in his personal bathroom while the women’s locker room was being upgraded, the suit states. That same year, he made an inappropriate comment about the ancestry of a sergeant who was born in Poland and also was an Army veteran, according to the suit.
In May 2016, Matsuda said he could use a key to enter the city manager’s office and have sex with a woman on the city manager’s desk, the suit states. That same month, he said a female officer who had complained about how she and other gay employees were treated “looked like a dude,” the suit states.
Matsuda said in September 2016 that he “wanted to try out a defibrillator on his female detective’s chest” in reference to a woman who was married to one of the chief’s subordinates, the suit states.
After Vukotic reported Matsuda’s alleged inappropriate conduct to human resources, he was told to “go home and sleep on whether he actually wanted to file the complaint,” according to his suit.
After Matsuda left the TPD, his interim replacement, Michael Browne, told the plaintiff that the City Council and city manager “think you are the devil for reporting misconduct against Chief Matsuda and they want to lynch you,” his suit states. “They think Chief Matsuda is a saint.”
Vukotic alleges the “decision-makers” for the city retaliated against him for complaining about Matsuda by denying him a promotion to deputy chief even though he was the most qualified person. The city instead named to the position a captain who did not want to join Vukotic and another captain in coming forward about Matsuda, the suit states.
In their court papers, lawyers for the city maintained Vukotic’s claim he was wrongfully passed over for the deputy chief position was barred because Berg, who made the decision, had legitimate reasons for doing so.
Vukotic maintains the alleged adverse employment actions have cost him lost pay and other benefits.