Leading feminist attorneys Patricia Bellasalma, Los Angeles National Organization for Women President Shelly Mandell, Jack O’Donnell, and Genie Harrison were handed a major victory yesterday when a Los Angeles Superior Court ruled unanimously that Los Angeles County has demonstrated a pattern and practice of race discrimination against its 500-plus public safety officers.
The class action lawsuit, spearheaded by Captains Alma Cruz, George Frank, and Victor Turner, argued that public safety officers perform duties comparable to Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies: they too face danger and possible loss of life. Yet, their pay is 40% less than deputies, and they are not given equal pension opportunities. The public safety officers, comprised 80% by Latinos, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans, patrol the county’s hospitals, parks and other public facilities where clients are predominantly women of color.
Lead attorney Bellasalma said, “The county wants to have their cake and eat it too. They knew they needed police officers to do these jobs, they just didn’t want to pay cop wages and benefits.”
Cruz had come to the National Center for Women & Policing for help, at the suggestion of Jacqueline Gonzales, member of the National Center for Women and Policing. Gonzales, in turn, introduced Cruz and the other named plaintiffs to Bellasalma. This was Bellasalma’s first case out of law school. Plaintiffs will seek over $100 million in salary increases and back pay during the damages phase of the trial.