Jury selection begins Tuesday in a discrimination case in which three Latino police officers contend they were routinely passed over for promotions and two of them were given the "dead end" job of patrolling a local mall.
The three Westminster officers maintain that despite years of service and numerous awards their careers have languished as non-Latino officers have been promoted and given prestigious assignments in the predominantly Asian city.
"These three Latino officers dedicate their lives, put their lives on the line and have been outstanding officers and they've been denied opportunities, at every turn, to move up the ranks," said Victor Viramontes, an attorney representing the officers.
The lawsuit was filed in 2011 by Jose Flores, Ryan Reyes and Brian Perez, who said they were denied assignments that would have led to promotions.
Two of the officers said they were assigned to patrol Westminster Mall, a job they argued rarely led to career advancement. All three have worked at the Westminster Police Department for at least a decade.
"Their competitors, who are non-Latino, get detective assignments in their second year," Viramontes said.
Since the lawsuit was filed, Viramontes said several Latino officers have been promoted, but not his clients.
"The pattern of promotion looks to be retaliatory and looks to be an attempt to cover up their illegal acts," he said."
Melanie Poturica, the attorney representing Westminster, said the lawsuit was without merit.
"The city is denying that it engaged in discrimination and retaliation," Poturica said. "We feel that we have a very strong case and we are ready to go to trial."
Flores said he had applied for special assignments and was denied all of them except the mall position, despite receiving recognition for his work as a police officer including awards from
Reyes also said he was denied all special assignments except the mall position, despite being recognized as the department's rookie of the year and receiving multiple merit medals.
Perez, a U.S. Marine, said he had applied for special assignments but was denied each time.
The case is being heard in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.