A Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer working at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) has been awarded $3.6 million after filing a lawsuit alleging that he was retaliated against for coming to the defense of a female officer who was the target of discrimination.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury granted the award Wednesday, November 12th, to officer Donald Bender, a 20-year LAPD veteran who had worked in the department’s bomb-sniffing canine unit at the airport for over eight years before officer Patricia Fuller reported alleged unlawful behavior by her superiors.
Fuller, the only female officer in the canine bomb unit at the time, filed a complaint alleging that she was the victim of gender discrimination and sexual harassment. Bender filed a lawsuit in 2006 against the City of Los Angeles and his department superiors, claiming that Fuller was being excluded from training and after he came to her defense, he was retaliated against.
Bender alleged in his lawsuit that he was harassed by fellow officers, was removed from the elite canine bomb detection unit and was demoted to patrol duty, assigned to filing work.
“It was completely humiliating and dehumanizing for him,” Matthew McNicholas, Bender’s attorney, said of the situation. “He worked throughout his life and his career to achieve police officer III [rank] in an elite unit.”
Bender sought general and special damages in the lawsuit, as well as compensatory damages, including lost wages and employee benefits.
The veteran officer, who has three children, lost 40 to 50 percent of his income and had to refinance his house as a result of the demotion, McNicholas noted. McNicholas called the jury’s verdict to award Bender $3.6 million “completely righteous.”
“He was in tears because he was finally vindicated,” McNicholas said of Bender’s reaction to the decision. “He felt like someone finally came to his aid.”
Los Angeles city attorney spokesman Frank Mateljan said only that the office was disappointed with the outcome of the case and was considering whether to appeal the decision.
“We’re disappointed with the verdict and we will review our options going forward,” Mateljan said.
Bender was promoted to the rank of police officer III in 1995 and was selected as a bomb-sniffing canine handler at LAX two years later. Under the leadership of some superior officers, the unit experienced sexual and discriminatory behavior, such as lewd remarks about women, Bender’s lawsuit alleged.
Bender said he supported the complaints of Fuller, who in 2005 alleged that fellow officers were harassing her. When Bender approached a superior officer about Fuller being excluded from training, the superior “rebuffed” the complaints, the lawsuit claims.
According to the lawsuit, because Bender spoke out against the alleged mistreatment of Fuller, he was kicked out of the canine unit at LAX and subjected to numerous other adverse employment actions, including being assigned to a desk job that required a commute of four hours per day.
Following the court verdict in his favor, Bender plans to continue working in his current position in a “career that he loves,” McNicholas said.