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Officer pulled from lawsuit

LOS ANGELES — A Burbank police officer’s discrimination lawsuit against the department has no merit and cannot go forward, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Friday.

Judge Joanne O’Donnell ruled that Elfego Rodriguez, who is of Guatemalan descent, demonstrated no evidence of discrimination, and that claims of retaliation and harassment did not warrant a trial.

The ruling does not affect the remaining three plaintiffs on the case, who allege several instances of race and gender bias, harassment and retaliation, and that the department allowed the atmosphere to thrive.

The same judge dismissed another officer, Jamal Childs, from the case in March, ruling that racial epithets directed at him fell outside the statute of limitations, and that more recent comments were not directed at him personally.

Attorney Solomon Gresen, who is representing Rodriguez and the four other officers, argued that the officer complained to superiors in 2007 after a sergeant told him, “You look like the guys we chase.”

“You really have a police department where we presented a tremendous amount of evidence of a department in a complete state of disarray with respect to race-based issues,” Gresen said in court Friday. “When you have a situation like this, the only resource a cop has is to come to a judge and say, ‘Judge, this isn’t right.'”

The department in the last year has been jolted by a federal probe into allegations of excessive force and five civil lawsuits filed by a total of eight current and former officers.

Rodriguez, along with Lt. Omar Rodriguez and Officers Childs, Steve Karagiosian and Cindy Guillen-Gomez, also charged in their May 2009 lawsuit that the department has for decades pursued hiring practices that favor heterosexual white men.

Rodriguez, in court documents, said he was passed up for a promotion after making the complaints, despite being among the highest scorers of an aptitude test for the department’s Special Response Team, known commonly as SWAT.

He later joined the Special Enforcement Detail, a unit responsible for making high-risk arrests, until it was disbanded last year.

Gresen argued that reasons why the unit was dissolved should be explored at trial.

He pointed to an incident involving an erasable white board on which someone had scrawled the comments “I tell you everything .?.?. 100%” and “Sir, please, I beg you.”

The phrases were regularly made through a thick Armenian accent, Gresen said.

“It was a comment that a lot of ethnic Armenians say: ‘I tell you 100%,'” he said. “They knew it to be a joke. They knew it to be derogatory.”

Within weeks of fielding complaints about the white board, then-Chief Tim Stehr cited budgetary concerns as his reason to disband the Special Enforcement Detail.

Rodriguez was returned to the patrol division and assigned to a schedule typically reserved for rookies and officers with limited experience, according to court filings.

“Statements made to the officers about their complaints were disregarded, and they were told that it could adversely affect their career,” he said.

Rodriguez joined the Burbank Police Department in 2004.

Throughout his tenure, he was up for four elite assignments, all of which he received, according to court records.

Lawyers for the city argued that an officer’s failure to receive a particular work assignment exactly when wanted was not an adverse employment action.

Attorney Lawrence Michaels, representing the city, said the question before the court was whether evidence of harassment was so pervasive and severe that it altered working conditions, and that a reasonable jury could reach the conclusion that it met the legal standard.

A police captain recommended shuttering the Special Enforcement Detail because the unit could not be fully staffed, and Stehr endorsed the request, Michaels said.

“There is not one shred of evidence that it was made for any discriminatory or retaliatory reasons,” he said.

The white board incident did not involve offensive language, lawyers for the city said, and the sergeant’s comment, which came within 18 months of Rodriguez joining the force, were in reference to the classic Chevrolet owned and driven by Rodriguez.

“It’s this remarkably innocuous comment that has no expressed racial or ethnic content to it,” Michaels said.