January 17, 2019 at 12:31 pm PST | by Karen Ocamb
Is the Beverly Hills Police Chief a homophobe?

Beverly Hills Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli (Photo courtesy Beverly Hills Police Department)

The news is pretty astounding to grasp. How could a presumably progressive city such as Beverly Hills hire, harbor and promote a bigot? But that’s what more than 20 lawsuits allege.

“Beverly Hills paid $2.3 million to settle a lawsuit against its police chief as allegations of racism and anti-Semitism swirl,” the Los Angeles Times headline blared last December.

But buried in articles by The Times and other media outlets is the fact that at least two out lesbian employees have filed lawsuits, too, alleging blatant discrimination by Chief Sandra Spagnoli. Additionally, some of the lawyers note that Spagnoli actually has a history of biased comments about race, age and religion.

There have been “significant issues in potentially dozens of former cities where the chief worked,” attorney Eric Gruzen told the Los Angeles Blade, “and what we see is a pretty consistent pattern of pretty awful behavior.”

Gruzen’s firm JML Law in Woodland Hills represents Lisa Weller, employed with the Beverly Hills Police Department since Sept. 2001 as a civilian traffic control officer. In March 2015, Weller was promoted to Supervisor but after Spagnoli was hired, things changed.

“Upon Spagnoli’s hire and continuing throughout Plaintiff’s employment, Spagnoli regularly made disparaging remarks about lesbians in the workplace,” Weller’s lawsuit alleges. “On one occasion while referencing lesbian women, Spagnoli stated: ‘the thought of what they do together makes me sick.’”

Weller also alleges that in or about April 2016, “when Spagnoli became aware that a female employee was lesbian, Spagnoli made it clear that she was disgusted by lesbians and commented ‘eww’ and ‘gross.’ Spagnoli commented regarding Dona Norris, who is a lesbian: ‘Don’t let her touch me.’ Spagnoli further commented ‘make sure she does not stand next to me’ in photos for national safety, telecommuters, and dispatcher appreciation week.’”

Weller says Spagnoli created a work environment that was “intimidating, hostile and abusive” and targeted her for ill-treatment at work that resulted in the city demoting her from Supervisor to Traffic Control Officer with the resulting cut in pay and benefits. 

Dona Norris is being represented by Bradley C. Gage of Goldberg & Gage, also based in Woodland Hills. He also represents Renato Moreno and Michael Foxen, both of whom work for the Beverly Hills Police Department. Norris is a civilian employee with the police department. The “ew” and “gross” comments were allegedly made by Spagnoli about Norris.

In this case, in the spring of 2016, Foxen and a Captain met with two members of Human Resources “to argue for a gay female employee pay to be equal to the pay for straight males. They refused. The Captain and Foxen asked if the unequal pay was because employee is a lesbian.” Neither of the two HR employees “denied that sexual orientation was a reason for different treatment.”

The three allege retaliation after a discrimination investigation is prompted by complaints from other Beverly Hills Police Department employees.

Discrimination by law enforcement is not new territory for Gage, who told the Los Angeles Blade that he previously worked with attorney Dan Stormer on Sgt. Mitch Grobeson’s groundbreaking lawsuit against the LAPD.

“It’s “mind-boggling to me” why the City of Beverly Hills continues to employ the police chief who has been accused of using derogatory terms for people,” including blatant anti-Semitism, “all kinds of offensive statements and behavior,” including “forcing male employees to have with her or they get no promotion.”

Gage’s case—one of his 10 against the city—is set for June 3; Gruzen’s case is set for July 29, though he expects a delay. 

“I am greatly alarmed at the prospect of a Beverly Hill Chief of Police who is not only a horrible bigot, but who is injecting her bigotry into decisions within the department.  The City has already settled a multi-million dollar discrimination lawsuit against the Chief because of anti-semitism. Lawsuits don’t get settled for that kind of money if there is no truth to the accusations.  Now there are equally appalling allegations of anti-LGBT remarks and behavior,” Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri Jean told the Los Angeles Blade. “I’m surprised the people of Beverly Hills aren’t up in arms.”

The lawsuits raise another issue. “How can members of the LGBTQ community feel safe in Beverly Hills if the Chief of Police is promoting anti-LGBT animus?’ Jean asks. “Many LGBT and allied organizations hold events in Beverly Hills and we need to know that our community will not face a homophobic or transphobic police force. Further, the Center has long had many supporters, clients and board members who live in Beverly Hills. Many Beverly Hills residents are members of our community and many others have LGBTQ family members.  All of these people are entitled to a Chief of Police who will treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserve and which the law of our state requires.”

Jean says she is sending representatives to the next Beverly Hills City Council meeting on Feb. 5 “to demand that the City Council fully investigate these allegations and that they also make a public statement that bigotry of any kind–specifically including anti-LGBT bigotry–has no place in the Beverly Hills Police Department.  The Chief should be required to make a similar statement.  And if the Chief is shown to have acted as alleged, she should be terminated immediately.”

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