A jury on Thursday awarded an Armenian American police detective $150,000 for claims that he faced on-the-job discrimination and harassment because of his ethnicity, his attorney said.
The detective who filed the lawsuit, Steve Karagiosian, testified in Los Angeles County Superior Court that detectives and sergeants in the Police Department regularly used derogatory terms — such as “towel heads” — in referring to Armenians.
The decision comes two weeks after a jury awarded former Burbank Police Deputy Chief William Taylor nearly $1.3 million based on claims that he was fired in retaliation for refusing to sign off on the terminations of minority officers, and for raising concerns about how a sexual harassment incident was being handled.
“The Burbank Police Department has been proven to have ethnic harassment within its department,” said Karagiosian's attorney, Solomon Gresen, after the jury's verdict was announced. “Det. Karagiosian had complained for years, and the jury's verdict should demonstrate to the city that this is a problem that needs to be immediately addressed.”
Named “Officer of the Year” in 2007, Karagiosian is still employed with the department.
Even with the jury coming down on his side, Gresen said his client feared the verdict would create a whole new set of problems back at the department.
“Mr. Karagiosian is gratified that the jury found in his favor, but fears retaliation from the city attorney's office and the Burbank Police Department,” Gresen said.
While the jury must still make determinations on more specific questions, Burbank City Atty. Amy Albano said the city was disappointed with the verdict.
“What was interesting in the verdict is that the amount awarded was reduced,” Albano said, noting that the amount was lower than the suggested $225,000 because the jury felt Karagiosian could have avoided some of the damages because some of the incidents were not reported to the city.
“The city takes issues of harassment very seriously,” Albano said. “When we are informed, we take appropriate action. That was done in this case. If not informed about an issue of harassment, the city is not able to take an action.”
Jurors deliberated Karagiosian's case for about a day before delivering its verdict.
“I think it's appalling the city has spent millions of dollars in defense costs to deny these claims when they could've spent far less in training and dispute resolution, and they would have already fixed the problem,” Gresen said.
“We didn't ask for $25 million,” Gresen added. “Why is the city spending millions to defeat a $225,000 claim? It's a horrible use of taxpayers' money.”
Karagiosian was one of five former and current officers in the lawsuit. The part of the case involving Officer Cindy Guillen is expected to start May 2.
The three other officers were dropped from the lawsuit, although there is a separate case pending in federal court.
Vilma Mendillo, one of the jurors in the Karagiosian trial, said jurors wrote down the comments they considered harassment, voted on and then scored each item.
Jurors also voted on how pervasive or severe the comments were, Mendillo said, noting when the comments occurred.
“Once we figured out he had been harassed,” Mendillo said of their methodical approach, “that was the deciding issue for compensation and that he should win the case.”
Mendillo, 65, lives in Silver Lake.
"As a gay woman I've experienced [harassment], " Mendillo said. "Words matter."