A Glendale police lieutenant is suing the city, alleging that she was denied a promotion to captain because of her gender, Armenian heritage and for threatening to blow the whistle on what she called an unlawful interview process, court records show.
Ludmilla Abrahamian claimed that she was the most qualified of six applicants who interviewed for the position in December. She discovered later that month that the panel of experts responsible for evaluating the candidates was “handpicked” by Glendale Police Chief Robert Castro and “instructed how to rank the candidates,” according to the lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Under Glendale’s civil service rules, Castro would ultimately select the candidate for promotion but is required to choose from among the professional panel’s top-three list. Once certified, that list is valid for two years or until it’s exhausted.
Castro, the lawsuit alleged, “made clear to the interviewers that he did not want a female or minority to be ranked in the top three positions.”
City Atty. Mike Garcia declined to comment via email Tuesday, noting that the city had not been served with or analyzed the lawsuit.
Abrahamian’s attorney Gregory Smith also declined to comment.
Castro could not immediately be reached Tuesday, but he has said in the past that his intention with his first captain promotion was to find a “peacemaker” who could communicate with and be respected by the entire organization.
Before he took the helm of the department more than two years ago, he said, allegations of favoritism were widespread.
“I needed a captain that could bridge that gap among all the different people in the organization and make them have confidence that they were going to get opportunities to be successful regardless of what their past history may have been,” Castro said, adding that this perspective was important for panelists to know.
In March, the Glendale Coalition for Better Government published a series of emails, obtained using state open records laws, between Castro and the panelists. The coalition’s report is currently under review by the state attorney general’s office.
Castro, who is Latino, indicated in one email that “many past promotions were done for political and racial favor.” He continued, “I do not play that game so that is why I asked you to help me.”
The hiring panel scheduled a conference call for Nov. 23 and the following day Castro emailed the group again, indicating that one applicant had withdrawn, but he named three who were still in the process. Abrahamian was not one of them.
The panel’s top-three list, which the lawsuit alleged included the three candidates named in the email, was ultimately thrown out after human resource officials determined the communications were inappropriate.
The test was subsequently readministered by a second panel of experts.
Abrahamian alleged that the second time around, Castro chose panelists who “he knew would appoint only males and disregard minorities,” according to the lawsuit.
One of the panelists was Tom Angel, who at the time served as chief of staff to Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. He recently resigned that post over emails he forwarded while he was Burbank’s No. 2 police official, mocking Muslims, blacks, Latinos and women. Another unnamed panelist, the lawsuit alleged, had close ties to Castro.
In the lawsuit, Abrahamian, who has served as a lieutenant since 2010, also said she was denied the promotion in retaliation for notifying the city in December that she intended to sue.
In a letter sent to Abrahamian’s attorney on Jan. 4, City Atty. Mike Garcia confirmed that he received the request to preserve evidence. Two months later, a city spokesman denied to the Glendale News-Press that the city received such a request.
Tchekmedyian writes for Times Community News.