By Alexandra M. Steinberg -
An LAPD officer complained he was sexually harassed. Internal Affairs investigated and determined that he had fabricated the allegations. The officer was fired and first asked the Superior Court to order the City to reinstate him to his job, which it did. He then sued the City for unlawful retaliation under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), claiming that he was fired for protected conduct in making his complaint of sexual harassment. A Los Angeles jury agreed with him and awarded him $2 million for lost wages and emotional distress… And then the appellate court reversed the judgment and took it away.
How did this happen? Well, when a case is given to a jury to decide, it is read several jury instructions. Part of the instruction read to the jury required a finding that the officer’s report of sexual harassment was a motivating reason for the City’s decision to terminate him. In a vacuum, this appears to have been met. However, the Court of Appeal found that the officer had failed to provide substantial evidence that there was any retaliatory intent by the City. Rather, the City terminated the officer because it believed he had fabricated the allegations of sexual harassment – not to retaliate against him for any valid complaint. The Court of Appeal ended its decision by urging the Judicial Council of California to redraft the jury instruction to be more clear, that retaliatory intent is a necessary element of a claim for retaliation. The case is Joaquin v. City of Los Angeles, Appellate Court Case No. B226685, Jan. 23, 2012.