June 2, 2004
THE VERDICT - ONE YEAR LATER
By Darleene Barrientos
GLENDALE - Eighteen months after claiming they were victims of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation at work, three female Glendale Police Department officers sat in a Los Angeles courtroom, anxiously awaiting a decision from the jury that had listened toarguments in their case for more than three months.
After 15 days of deliberation, jurors reached their decision: They
agreed with the women, and awarded them $3.5 million in damages.
None has received any of the money the city was ordered to pay, because both sides are embroiled in appeals.
"They're doing as well as can be expected," said the women's lawyer, Brad Gage.
Each woman's situation is different in terms of the assignments she has been given and how the trial has affected her personal and professional life. Citing pending appeals, Gage declined a request for a round-table interview with his clients.
His clients -- Jamie Franke, Katie Frieders and Renae Kerner -- filed a lawsuit against the city and their department in December 2001, alleging their supervisors sexually harassed them, then retaliated and discriminated against them after they rejected their advances.
The case went to trial in February 2003. A mistrial was declared after about two weeks of testimony, because too many jurors called in sick. Though a new jury was seated almost immediately, several more problems developed during the second trial, including more sick jurors and a new judge stepping in.
On June 2, 2003, the jury of nine men and three women awarded the officers a total of $3.5 million. The city decided to appeal the verdict in September, but has not filed the court papers. A deadline for filing the appeal has not been set by the court.
Several of the alleged incidents witnesses testified about during the trial happened as long ago as the mid-1990s, and it is important to look at the issues discussed during the trial from that perspective, Glendale Police Chief Randy Adams said.
"This took years to come to trial. A lot of the issues and accusations and so forth that were brought up in the trial were historical in reference to the organization," he said. "Oncesomething comes to trial and you're trying it, it makes everybody think, 'OK, this is happening now,' when in fact, the information's dated."
Gage disagrees, contending the harassment and retaliation have continued.
Of the three plaintiffs, Franke, 37, was given the largest award by the jury -- more than $1.3 million for suffering retaliation and disability discrimination. But Franke has not returned to work and was asked by the city to retire because she could not continue to perform her duties due to a work-related back injury she suffered before leaving in October 2001 to have a child.
Franke expected to be given a light-duty assignment, such as taking reports at the front desk, when her doctor cleared her to return to work in September 2002. Instead, Franke went for more than a year without working, then received a letter from the city in February, recommending she accept a medical retirement because she can no longer perform her job due to a work-related back injury.
The city's action constitutes retaliation, Gage said.
"The city said they had work available, but they won't let her back. They have forced her out," Gage said. "They started a pension procedure for her, an involuntary one."
Franke still is considered an active employee, Adams said.
"So far, she hasn't been retired. She is not terminated," he said. "The city is trying to medically retire her ... she's not being pushed out of the organization without any potential compensation. The city does have the right to medically retire an individual -- even if [the employee doesn't] want to retire."
If Franke agrees to retire, she would receive 50% of the annual salary
she made when she left, tax-free, for the rest of her life, Adams said.
Frieders was one of 10 officers honored with a divisional commendation during Glendale's annual appreciation and awards luncheon in May. After the ceremony, Frieders said she loves her new job in the same department where her brother works as a sergeant, although she misses friends in Glendale.
"I'm very happy where I am now. I have a second chance," Frieders said. She declined to comment further.
Frieders applied to join the Fullerton Police Department after the verdict was announced last year. Frieders' decision to leave was the pinnacle of years of problems, co-counsel Chris Brizzolara said.
"I think it was something that just kind of built," he said. "She wanted closure from the whole thing."
Frieders' Fullerton co-workers do not know much about her involvement in the lawsuit, with the exception of the department's management staff, Gage said. Frieders changed her last name when she went to Fullerton to avoid being associated with the lawsuit, which is referred to as Frieders vs. Glendale.
Frieders recently was authorized to patrol the city on her own after a probation period required of all new hires, Fullerton Police Capt. Mike Maynard said.
"The administration doesn't work with the patrol officers, but we're getting very good reports on Katie. She doesn't seem to be having any problems -- she's made some good arrests," Maynard said. "She's doing a very good job."
Police officers' backgrounds are exhaustively investigated before a department will offer them a job. Fullerton Police officials knew about Frieders' case, Maynard said.
"It was not something that deterred us from hiring her. It's between her and the city of Glendale," he said. "As far as it impacting our decision here, it was something we considered. But a lot of people have problems of one kind or another. We didn't think this was something that would affect [Frieders] working for the city of Fullerton or being a Fullerton Police officer."
Kerner, 41, also is busy with a new assignment. She has been working as a school resource officer at Wilson Middle School since January, and is filling in at Daily High School for Officer Sue Shine, who is on pregnancy leave. Kerner is active in the department's Police Activities League program, where she initiated an equestrian team for troubled girls. Kerner also stepped in to organize the department's fundraising events for the Tri-Valley Special Olympics.
"I think the job is one she applied for and got, so I don't think she's complaining about her position," Gage said.
Wilson Middle School Principal Richard Lucas is looking forward to the day when Kerner will devote all of her time to his school.
"We've worked together on some things. I'd like her to be here full time -- she's really ready to move on a lot of projects we have. She seems to like the kids, but when she ends up her day at Daily, we don't get to see her very often," Lucas said. "She's real nice and energetic and easy to work with. We're looking forward to having her here more than she is now."
Even with the new assignments -- and in one case, an entirely new city and department -- Frieders and Kerner continue to feel the effects of the trial, primarily in the form of internal affairs investigations that Gage called retaliatory.
"They're investigating an allegation against Kerner [that came out during the trial.] They also imposed punishment on her because of [an investigation in 2001]," Gage said, referring to Kerner's admission during the trial that she slept on duty and misled dispatchers about her location. "It's retaliation. It's a reaction. It was after the trial that they imposed that punishment, suspension and pay loss."
Gage said the punishment was one the department had delayed imposing on Kerner for her part in the "napster" investigation. Kerner was suspended for 90 hours last summer, Gage said, and her pay was reduced a step, which equals a few hundred dollars a month.
Glendale Police officials cannot comment on the retaliation allegation
because any type of employee discipline is confidential, Adams said.
"With some it's good, with some it's bad," Gage said. "Some of them are cheering that she had the courage to stand up and do what they always wanted to do, to fight the harassment and discrimination."
Before she left Glendale, Frieders worked special details, such as the department's plainclothes patrol in the Glendale Marketplace and helping with the agency's March sweep of local taggers. But Gage said Frieders left partly because she was not being allowed to transfer out of the patrol division, even though she testified during the trial that she was approved for the assaults bureau, the DARE anti-drug program, the Youth Services Bureau and to be promoted as an agent.
"It's not unusual for officers assigned to patrol to not transfer from time to time," Adams said.
When a position outside of the patrol division is open, all officers are encouraged to apply, and the selection process is usually competitive, he said. The supervisor of the division with the open position makes the hiring selection with the chief's approval.
"Certainly the person who gets selected is pleased and the people who don't get selected are disappointed," Adams said. "There was no intention to exclude her from any assignments -- she just wasn't selected."
Carla Haupt also was one of the lawsuit's original plaintiffs. Haupt worked as a school resource officer at Toll Middle School before she quit in April 2003. Her complaint was dismissed in January 2003, just before the case went to trial. Defense attorneys won a summary judgment against Haupt because the judge didn't believe she had enough evidence for a verdict.
Haupt is appealing the judge's decision to award defense attorneys' fees regarding her claims against a city worker and two retired sergeants.
Haupt is working, but not as an officer, Gage said. He declined to say where she is working, but said she is trying to get another job in law enforcement.
The original lawsuit also listed Community Service Officer Linda Daidone as a plaintiff. Daidone also dropped her complaint in 2002. Daidone still works for the department as a community service officer, assigned to the traffic division. Daidone declined a request for an interview because a settlement agreement for an undisclosed amount carried a confidentiality clause, said her attorney, Mark MacCarley.
The situation has put a strain on the relationship between Franke and her husband, who also is a Glendale Police officer, Gage said. The issue was brought up during the trial, with Franke testifying she was put on shifts opposite her husband, allegedly in retaliation for being a witness in another plaintiff's sexual harassment complaint. The separate shifts did not allow Franke to spend time with her husband, she testified.
"Things are not good because they don't have her income. Half their money is gone," Gage said.
Franke received workers' compensation benefits for a year, Gage said.
"It's come and gone. She's lost her vacation time, her sick time,
her comp time, her pension benefits," he said.
Frieders testified that she suffered a series of panic attacks after the lawsuit was filed in 2001. A year after the verdict, the panic attacks have stopped, Gage said.
City Atty. Scott Howard believes the jury's verdict was unreasonable, and said the city will continue to contest it through appeals. A settlement out of court is not out of the question, he said, but mediation attempts have been unsuccessful.
"I can't tell you if we're going to fight this thing forever," Howard said. "We're going to take it a step at a time."