A jury awarded $7 million Tuesday to a former Baldwin Park police chief who sued the city for gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation, affirming that she was fired because she is a woman.
Lili Hadsell, who spent nearly 40 years in law enforcement, started to cry in the courtroom after hearing the verdict, which brought relief from the shame caused by years of harassment and an abrupt firing.
“I feel like I told my truth, the jury believed my truth, the story is out there, now people know what happened, and I feel absolutely vindicated,” said Hadsell, 63. “For almost 5 ½ years, this has been sitting on my shoulders, and now I’m free.”
Dana John McCune, an attorney who represented the city, did not respond to a request for comment.
Hadsell worked for the Baldwin Park Police Department for almost 14 years. She got her start in law enforcement as a police cadet at the Pasadena Police Department. She was promoted through the ranks at the San Marino Police Department before leaving in 1999 to become a lieutenant in Baldwin Park.
Hadsell didn’t apply for the chief position but rather was appointed because of her impressive work performance — “and due to her token status as a female officer,” court records note. Shortly after taking the job, Hadsell felt as if she was being paraded around as a prop for city leaders to celebrate themselves for having a female police chief, according to court records.
On her first day as chief in 2008, Hadsell said she was sitting in her new office when she heard a male officer down the hall say, “I’ll never call that woman chief of police.”
Soon, the hostility Hadsell experienced from male colleagues and city leaders intensified, especially from her subordinate Michael Taylor — who would later replace her as police chief — and City Councilman Ricardo Pacheco, according to court records. Taylor and Pacheco could not be reached for comment.
Both men repeatedly told police officers that “a woman cannot do this job” and that she “took Mike Taylor’s job,” court records say.
“There was one particular individual that was threatening my command staff, saying things like, ‘Either you need to be loyal to me or her because she’s going to be gone in six months,’ ” Hadsell said, not naming the individual.
At one point, that person pushed one of her lieutenants against a wall during a party and told him, “Either you choose me, or you choose her, but you better choose right now, and it better be me.” The lieutenant asked Hadsell not to discipline the man because he feared retaliation, she said.
In 2009, Hadsell reorganized the department and removed Taylor from the chain of command to try to end the vitriol he was spreading, court records show. That day, Pacheco called and screamed at Hadsell, demanding she resign and then “threatened that he would make the plaintiff resign if she did not do so herself,” according to court records. The other four City Council members publicly censured him afterward, Hadsell’s attorney said.
Throughout her career, Hadsell prided herself on community policing and thoughtful approaches to gang violence and juvenile offenders. She encouraged her officers to get out of their cars and engage with the public.
“If you’re passing a soccer game and don’t have a call, stop the car and talk to people,” Hadsell said she told officers. “It’s important. That’s the way you build trust in a community.”
On Dec. 10, 2013, Hadsell attended a City Council meeting, expecting to receive a review based on the agenda. Instead, in a closed-door council meeting, Mayor Manuel Lozano told her, without explanation, “Chief, you’re dismissed,” and she was escorted to her office.
Within an hour of being fired, Hadsell said she got a text message from the mayor.
“Chief, sad day for” Baldwin Park, he wrote. “It was retaliation without a doubt!!”
“It was the most humiliating thing I have ever lived through in my life,” Hadsell said. “It’s the culmination of my career, and — most chiefs retire, and they have a nice party. They’re thanked for their hard work, the years they’ve given the community. To be escorted off the property like a criminal after giving 39 years of my life to public service was just absolutely devastating and humiliating.”