MNLA photo by Jay Martin

A judge says he is once again inclined to dismiss half of the claims of a Los Angeles police officer who sued the city, alleging he was harassed and subjected to backlash for not wearing a face covering while working outdoors, but no final decision will be made until a hearing next month.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kevin C. Brazile ruled that more details are needed to support LAPD Officer Rick Knoph’s claims for failure to accommodate and failure to engage in the interactive process. The judge had issued a tentative ruling Tuesday in which he said he was leaning toward dismissing those two claims, but after hearing arguments Wednesday he gave Knoph’s lawyers 20 days to file an amended complaint.

The judge said Knoph can proceed on his additional causes of action for discrimination and retaliation.

However, the judge’s clerk issued a minute order on Monday in which Brazile says he is once again thinking of dismissing the failure to accommodate and failure to engage in the interactive process causes of action.

According to his suit filed last July 13, Knoph’s doctors advised him that due to a medical condition, it was safe for him to wear masks indoors, but not outside. Among other medical problems, Knoph alleges he had a type of asthma, upper airway cough syndrome and scarring of the lungs, and that the LAPD did not allow him to be unmasked outdoors pursuant to his doctor’s recommendation.

Knoph’s attorney, Douglas Winter, told Brazile during Wednesday’s arguments that his client is a motorcycle officer, that there is no dispute he has a disability and that makes him entitled to a work accommodation. Winter said Knoph’s doctor found it safe for him to wear a mask indoors, where he only spent a small amount of his work time.

But according to the City Attorney’s Office’s court papers, it is “nonsensical to suggest that (Knoph) can’t wear a mask outdoors during traffic stops, to protect himself and the public from COVID, but can wear a mask indoors to protect himself and his coworkers from the same disease.”

Knoph has worked at various LAPD divisions for the past 23 years, his suit states. In May 2020, the department 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.

“This policy did not provide exceptions for officers with disabilities,” according to the suit.

Later that month, the department revised its policy to make an exception for officers with a documented medical exemption, 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.

From May 18 to July 30, 2020, Knoph allegedly received three citizen complaints, all alleging that he did not wear a face covering during traffic stops. However, the department found against the plaintiff in all three cases, concluding that Knoph’s actions “could have been different,” according to his suit.

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.

According to the Monday’s minute order, Brazile is reconsidering his ruling based on four factors, including his observation that in May through June 2020, “any accommodation that would have allowed plaintiff to not wear a face mask/covering outdoors while on duty as a police officer, would have been unreasonable, inappropriate, and a threat to public health, safety, and welfare.”

Knoph’s doctor’s note did not prohibit him from wearing a face shield while outdoors and on duty as a police officer, which was allowed by both the state and county of Los Angeles health officer orders, according to Brazile.

Knoph’s request not to wear a face mask outdoors was “properly and appropriately rejected and denied by the city as an unreasonable accommodation request and, consequently, any interactive process would have been pointless, unreasonable and unnecessary given the threat plaintiff posed to the public by not wearing a face mask outdoors,” says Brazile, who will have a hearing on the issues June 16 and will accept further briefing before then.

Challenging Knoph’s retaliation claim, the City Attorney’s Office states that counseling the officer for not wearing a mask “does not constitute an adverse employment action.”

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