A Los Angeles police officer has sued the city, alleging he was harassed and subjected to a backlash by the department for not wearing a face covering while working outdoors even though the department knew he had a respiratory problem.
Officer Rick Knoph’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges discrimination, retaliation, failure to accommodate and failure to engage in the interactive process. He seeks unspecified damages in the suit brought Wednesday.
A representative for the City Attorney’s Office could not immediately be reached.
Knoph has worked at various LAPD divisions for the past 23 years, the suit states. In May 2020, the LAPD implemented a policy requiring all officers to wear a face covering when they are in contact with the public or cannot socially distance form co-workers, the suit states.
“This policy did not provide exceptions for officers with disabilities,” the suit alleges.
Knoph has a longtime respiratory illness of which the LAPD was aware, the suit states. His doctor advised him to avoid wearing face coverings “if he is able to be outdoors,” according to the suit.
Later that month, the department revised its face covering policy to make an exception for officers with a documented medical exemption, the suit states. From May 18, 2020 to July 30, 2020, Knoph received three citizen complaints, all alleging that he did not wear a face covering during traffic stops, the suit states.
Knoph gave a doctor’s note to his supervisor stating that the benefits of him not wearing a mask when working outside outweighed the risks, but also indicating that he should don one when he was indoors, the suit states. However, the department found against the plaintiff in all three citizen complaints, concluding that Knoph’s actions “could have been different,” the suit states.
The LAPD counseled Knoph about wearing a face covering and told him his actions were not justified because his physician’s note did not expressly prohibit him from wearing a mask or other covering, according to the suit.
Late last July, Capt. Andrew Neiman called Knoph’s doctor without the plaintiff’s permission “in order to have plaintiff’s medical restriction altered to fit the department’s agenda,” the suit states.
Neiman “lied to plaintiff’s physician when he advised her that he had plaintiff’s permission and consent to contact her, discuss plaintiff’s medical case and ask her to change the wording of his doctor’s note such that plaintiff would not be exempt from wearing a mask at work,” the suit states.
Knoph reported Neiman’s alleged actions to a supervisor, saying he was being discriminated against on the basis of his disability and being retaliated against for requesting a medical accommodation and for refusing to participate in activity that he believed violated was illegal, the suit states.
However, the supervisor did not report Knoph’s complaint and instead told the plaintiff, “Do what you have to do,” the suit states.
Knoph then filed an internal complaint against Neiman alleging discrimination, harassment and retaliation, the suit states. His career has been “materially and adversely affected, and irreparably harmed and damaged by the conduct of the defendants,” according to the suit.
Knoph has suffered damage to his reputation, his ability to promote and his ability to be selected for other units, the suit states.