A former Montebello police detective is suing the city, saying she was forced to work in an environment where men were given preferential treatment in everything from promotions to considerations for exemptions from the city’s coronavirus vaccine mandate.
Officer Maria Chavez’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit also alleges she was wrongfully fired earlier this year for refusing to be vaccinated on religious grounds. Her suit also names as defendants City Manager Rene Bobadilla and Nicholas T. Razo, the city’s director of human resources.
Chavez alleges gender discrimination, failure to accommodate a religious belief and hostile work environment. She seeks unspecified compensatory damages against the city and the two individuals, plus punitive damages against the men.
“In short, Chavez was treated differently than her male colleagues during the vaccine mandate process and she was terminated due to the discriminatory conduct of the (city),” according to the suit, which further states that the plaintiff was one of the only female detectives in the MPD.
Chavez was routinely excluded from MPD meetings by her male colleagues, the suit states.
“It was clear that Chavez was not wanted in the MPD and the new vaccine policy was the perfect way to get rid of her under a thin veneer of legality,” the suit states.
A representative for the city could not be immediately reached.
Chavez started her career in law enforcement as a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy in 2006 and was hired by the MPD the next year, working patrol, the suit states. She was promoted to corporal in 2013 and five years later became a detective responsible for investigating crimes against children, according to the suit.
During her MPD career, the plaintiff experienced discrimination that included hearing offensive language about females and viewing inappropriate postings of literature belittling women, the suit states.
“In short, the MPD detective unit was a private men’s club and women were not welcome,” the suit states.
Chavez was twice denied promotions to sergeant in favor of lesser qualified male officers, according to her suit.
The city announced its coronavirus employee vaccine mandate in August 2021, promising to handle requests for religious exemptions on a fair, case-by-case basis, the suit states.
However, Chavez’s interview with Razo when she requested a vaccine exemption only lasted five minutes and he did not ask any questions, the suit states.
“Unfortunately, it became clear that Montebello never intended to follow its own written vaccine policy and that Chavez was going to be terminated no matter what she told Razo,” according to the suit, which further states the plaintiff received a letter from the city in November 2021 stating that her exemption request was denied and that she had not identified a religious doctrine that would exclude her from the vaccine mandate.
“Chavez was shocked and confused because the allegations in the letter painted a false picture of the interview conducted by Razo,” the suit states.
Chavez’s male colleagues’ requests for religious exemptions were mostly rubber-stamped by Razo, who was close personal friends with the male officers seeking exemptions, the suit alleges.
Chavez was put on leave last December and fired on Jan. 6, the suit states.
“The MPD and Montebello used the vaccine mandate to terminate one of the few female detectives in the department and notably the one who complained about the department’s hostility towards female officers,” the suit states.