A jury awarded $2.1 million Tuesday to a former Los Angeles police detective who claimed she was so mistreated and harassed after taking a medically ordered leave that she suffered irreversible harm and could no longer work.
Maria Elena Montoya sued the city of L.A. and the LAPD in April 2013, contending that she was punished by one of her supervisors after suffering a back injury during a 2011 vacation. The ailment stemmed from a previous work-related injury, according to court papers.
While on leave, an “ugly, untrue rumor” developed that Montoya was abusing her benefits. When she returned in early 2012, she was reassigned from the sex crimes desk to burglary, a move she considered a demotion, according to court papers.
Montoya, who joined the LAPD in 1994, alleged that one of her supervisors in the Newton Division, then-Lt. Lillian Carranza, was the main source of retaliation, ordering the reassignment and giving her an undesirable vacation schedule.
Carranza, who had been transferred to that division about three months before Montoya first took a medical leave, was also accused of interfering with the processing of medical claims, delaying the receipt of benefits, according to court papers.
Montoya reported Carranza’s actions to internal affairs, which launched an investigation.
Attorneys for the city disputed Montoya’s characterization of events and said her reassignment from the sex crimes desk was related to a spike in thefts and burglaries in the Newton Divsion’s territory.
In court papers, Carranza said she told Montoya: “I need you -- I need you on the burglary table. That’s where the numbers are.” In a meeting, Capt. Jorge Rodriguez said he told Montoya that her reassignment was at his direction, according to court papers.
On Feb. 13, 2012, Montoya was deemed to be temporarily completely disabled because of stress and placed on 60-day leave. The next week, she was stripped of her peace officer powers and her badge and weapon were seized, which she viewed as retaliation for reporting misconduct to internal affairs.
Attorneys for the city, however, said it occurred after a doctor determined that Montoya was “psychiatrically temporarily totally disabled,” according to court papers.
Montoya’s internal affairs complaint was dismissed after investigators concluded it was unfounded. She has alleged in her lawsuit that the internal probe suffered “serious flaws.” For example, her husband, an LAPD sergeant, and other “critical witnesses” were not interviewed, according to court papers.
In February 2016, Montoya was approved for a 45% service-connected disability pension after the Board of Fire and Police Pension Commissioners found that her physical injuries prevent her from working.
Attorneys from the city argued in court papers that the award of a disability pension was at odds with the premise of her legal case: that she would be able to do her job but for the discrimination and retaliation she had endured.
After the verdict, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office declined to comment.
Carranza was promoted to captain in 2012 and is now assigned to the Van Nuys Division.
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