Thursday, July 15, 2010
Court Rejects White Officer’s Claim of Retaliation
Monrovia Officer Said He Was Denied Bonus, Harassed for Backing Black Collegue
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has rejected a white police officer’s claim that he was harassed and denied a performance bonus because he objected to the way African Americans were treated within his department.
In an opinion filed June 17 and certified yesterday for publication, the court affirmed summary judgment for the City of Monrovia in an action by Matthew D. Thompson. Justice Elizabeth Grimes, writing for Div. Eight, said there was no admissible evidence that Thompson was harassed, or that the denial of his bonus was based on anything other than poor performance.
Thompson was hired by the city in 1997, took a leave in June 2007, and filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing in October 2007. He alleged at that time that he had been “retaliated against in the terms and conditions of his employment” because of his testimony in favor of Glenn Cobb, a black former Monrovia officer who sued the department for discrimination in 2006 and eventually settled.
The city noted in response that Thompson failed to allege specific acts of retaliation or to name the individuals who had retaliated.
Thompson filed a second DFEH complaint in November 2007, claiming harassment, retaliation and failure to investigate. He returned to work in January 2008, and sued the city later that year, claiming that he was unfairly placed in a job performance improvement program shortly after his involvement in the Cobb investigation, and that the city had retaliated not only because he had supported Cobb, but had generally complained about racism in the department.
Thompson said he was present during an incident in March 2006 that Cobb complained about in his lawsuit. During a police briefing, a police sergeant began ranting about how Africans were lazy and had accomplished nothing in this country, then mimicked the behavior of a monkey, both Thompson and Cobb claim.
Thompson also says he witnessed an incident where a picture of the character “Buckwheat” was placed on Cobb’s computer, and that he heard a supervisor say that James Earl Ray, the assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King, should be honored with a national holiday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu granted the city’s motion for summary judgment, and the Court of Appeal agreed that Thompson failed to establish a triable issue of material fact.
Grimes, writing for the panel, noted that Thompson had a long history of negative performance reviews, beginning long before any of the incidents cited in his complaint. His superiors, the justice explained, had continually criticized him for lack of legal and policy knowledge; lack of skill in managing time and writing reports, including a lack of “basic English skills”; and a host of rude and sarcastic comments to peers and co-workers.
The justice explained that an employee who claims to be a victim of bias against a group that the employee is not a member of can prevail only by showing that he was a member of an adverse employment action as a result of his being associated with, or being an advocate for, members of the disfavored group.
While Thompson presented evidence of bias against blacks within the department, Grimes said, he did not offer proof that any adverse actions were directed against him because of his involvement.
“Assuming arguendo, solely for purposes of brevity, that (1) all of the claimed retaliatory acts happened after Thompson engaged in protected activity, and (2) the acts about which Thompson complains were adverse employment actions and not merely routine personnel actions, nonetheless, the Department’s motion for summary judgment rested on substantial undisputed evidence of legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for all its conduct,” Grimes wrote.
Attorneys on appeal were Leo James Terrell for the plaintiff and J. Scott Tiedemann and Judith S. Islas of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore for the city.
The case is Thompson v. City of Monrovia, 10 S.O.S. 3999.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company