Good Ol' Boy Scheme Against Policewoman, or a Case of Inability?

Times Staff Writer

Superior Court jurors Monday were considering a claim that a sexist conspiracy among senior police officials ruined the career of the first woman to work as a patrol officer in Orange County.

"It was a conspiracy of good ol' boys who didn't want to see me make it," Bonnie Jean McClain said.

McClain was also the first--and only--woman to reach the rank of sergeant anywhere in the county, before male superiors at the Santa Ana Police Department decided she had failed probation in 1979 and busted her back to patrol officer.

McClain alleges that she was subjected to illegal discrimination based on sex. Carrie MacMillin, her lawyer, asked jurors Monday for at least $446,000 for damage to her reputation and the earning power she says she has lost.

She also sought reinstatement as a sergeant.

Weeklong Trial

In the weeklong trial, retired Santa Ana Police Chief Ray Davis, who promoted McClain, offered jurors a different view of the case.

"She just didn't make it as a sergeant, and I wanted a female sergeant," Davis told jurors.

But in final arguments Monday, MacMillin alleged the deck was stacked against McClain from the moment she was selected as sergeant.

Her six-month probation was split in half, and she reported to two separate superiors--an approach never before used, MacMillin said. McClain got rave reviews for the first three months, then was rated unsatisfactory in several areas for the last three months.

McClain was not only the only woman ever to reach sergeant, she was the only officer of either sex ever to fail probation for the position, MacMillin said.

Davis was the single witness called by Charles W. Matheis Jr., an attorney for the city.

Female Representation

The ex-chief testified that he was eager to increase minority and female representation on the police force when he assumed command in 1972.

For such officers as sergeant, the city personnel department selects three candidates, based on written and oral tests. Davis testified that the civil service rules are designed to keep politics out of the Police Department and that he had no influence over the list.

Once McClain made the list, in 1978, Davis said, he rejected advice from senior officers and named her sergeant.

When he learned that McClain was about to be demoted, Davis ordered a special review of that decision. It was conducted by Judith M. Ryan, legal adviser to the Police Department and now a superior court judge.

"We had a complete review of this," Davis testified last week. "(Ryan) is one, a female; two, a judge; three, a lawyer, and four, very adept at fair employment practices. She looked at it, and her conclusion was that it (the demotion) was fair."

Failed Probation

McClain failed probation because of errors in judgment, lack of command experience and inability to get along with peers and subordinates, he said.

She left work early on one occasion, pressed for incorrect charges twice, failed to follow proper procedure in handling citizen complaints and ordered a door kicked open without reason, according to the performance evaluation.

Davis' long tenure as chief and his openness toward women on the force were a central issue in the case.

"He told us he wanted women, but what are the facts?" MacMillin asked. "The facts are there are no women above the rank of patrol officer."

Matheis scoffed at the attack on Davis. He referred to the original selection of McClain as sergeant over two male candidates.

"This just doesn't make sense. Six months ago, he could have avoided the problem by picking one of the two men on the list," Matheis said. "If he was motivated against women, why would he promote her in the first place?"

McClain, who is married to a Santa Ana police sergeant, said she feels like "a martyr."

She said that within months of being returned to patrol duty, she was forced to take stress-related disability retirement at $1,072 per month. Her efforts to find work as a private investigator and insurance agent did not succeed, said McClain, 39.

The city settled a separate federal discrimination lawsuit filed by McClain in 1980 for $1,500.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World