Los Angeles County was ordered to pay the largest settlement in its history for racial and gender discrimination against a group of more than 500 police officers that patrol hospitals, parks and other facilities. As members of the county’s Office of Public Safety, the predominantly Latino, Asian and African-American department alleged that they were paid less for doing the same work than the Sheriff’s Department – which is largely Caucasian. The Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Women in Policing Center, which has been involved in the suit since the beginning, applauds Superior Court Judge Victor Chavez for requiring the county to pay a record $100 million. “These officers are finally getting the justice they deserve,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
The county will be required to pay about $100 million in back pay and upgraded pensions as well as another $140 million over the next 25 years in increased salaries. The county plans to appeal the decision. However, if the appeal fails they could disband the department, county supervisors announced Thursday. “Quite frankly, this is really irresponsible and another public policy decision being made, not on public safety or what’s best for the citizens, but just a knee-jerk reaction to being told they’re not getting their way,” Attorney Patricia Bellasalma told the Los Angeles Times in reaction to Thursday’s announcement. “If they did that, it would be just to get rid of officers they do not want to pay. It would be another instance of showing their preference for a majority Caucasian Sheriff’s Department.”
During a two-week trial that ended June 6, the officers told a jury how they battled street gangs, restrained often-violent psychiatric patients and lost six officers in the line of duty. However, they were compensated more like security guards than police – with salaries beginning at about $30,000, compared to $42,000 for Sheriff’s deputies. In addition, these officers do not receive safety retirement and their families are not taken care of in the event of a death in the line of duty.