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Court rejects city of Burbank's appeal in racial discrimination case against police detective

A state appellate court this week rejected the city of Burbank's challenge to a 2012 jury verdict that awarded $150,000 to an Armenian-American police detective who said he'd suffered racial discrimination and harassment while on the job.

The decision on Thursday comes several years after Det. Steve Karagiosian, along with several other current and former officers with the department, filed a discrimination and harassment lawsuit against the city in 2009.

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Karagiosian, who still works for the department, testified in Los Angeles Superior Court that several sergeants and detectives frequently used racial slurs and derogatory terms when referring to Armenians.

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A jury awarded the detective $150,000 in damages and nearly $720,000 in attorneys' fees. The detective's attorney, Solomon Gresen, lauded the appellate court's decision.

"We're gratified that the court upheld the verdict of the jury and upheld the award," he said.

Meanwhile, the city has not yet determined if it will continue to challenge the verdict with the California Supreme Court or accept the appeal's rejection. Burbank City Atty. Amy Albano said that's a determination to be made by the City Council.

However, she said the case is in the past for the city and police department. According to her, the focus should now be on the progress that police officials have made in the past several years to address harassment and discrimination within the department.

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"The court made its decision, and it's always an uphill battle to have a jury verdict overturned," Albano said. "We felt it was worth trying because of the factual circumstances of how it all arose."

The city based its appeal on several arguments.

One argument was that the detective's harassment and discrimination suit, citing the Fair Employment and Housing Act, was outside of the statute of limitations, and that Karagiosian took too long to file a complaint.

However, in the court's opinion signed by Justice Thomas Willhite, that argument was rejected. The court cited a "continuing violation doctrine" that supersedes any statute of limitations.

There was enough of a pattern of harassment and discrimination from officers that created a hostile workplace, according to the opinion.

"The relevant point is that acts of the harassment occur within the limitation period that are sufficiently connected to acts occurring outside the limitations period," the opinion stated.

The city also argued that attorneys' fees were "wildly inflated" and the court abused its discretion when awarding the nearly $720,000 to Karagiosian — that the billed hours for his attorneys were "speculative, arbitrary and capricious."

According to the opinion, the fees were based on the hours worked by Karagiosian's attorneys and an assigned rate that was considered reasonable by the court.

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Arguing against the city's claim of the billed hours being arbitrary, the opinion pointed out that keeping a detailed record of hours worked was never a prerequisite for the recovery of attorneys' fees.

Burbank has spent more than $7 million during the past four years to deal with the lawsuits relating to harassment and discrimination at the police department.

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Andy Nguyen, andy.nguyen@latimes.com

Twitter: @Andy_Truc

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