GLENDALE — Four Armenian officers and one former officer have filed a joint lawsuit against the Glendale Police Department, alleging years of discrimination, derogatory comments and harassment because of their race.
Officers John Balian and Robert Parseghian; Sgts. Vahak Mardikian and Tigran Topadzhikyan; and former Officer Benny Simonzad filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, alleging myriad on-the-job discrimination and harassment incidents.
When confronted with complaints of the discrimination, command staff failed to respond, according to the federal lawsuit.
City Atty. Scott Howard on Monday rebuffed the claims made in the lawsuit.
“There are many allegations in the complaint, which are absolutely, utterly false,” he said.
In the lawsuit, officers claim they were subjected to derogatory racial comments, and were told that they were being watched closely because of their race.
Simonzad, who claims he faced discrimination on the job, was fired in 2008, but sued to get his job back.
Balian testified on behalf of Simonzad, and was later demoted from his position as a Police Department spokesman to a patrol officer, according to the lawsuit.
Other officers in the lawsuit claim they were denied requests for transfers and promotions, and were disciplined for issues that non-Armenian officers were not reprimanded for. Due to the constant discrimination and harassment, the officers allege in the lawsuit that they suffered “humiliation, emotional distress, and mental and physical pain and anguish.”
The officers are suing for general and special damages, and for the judge to impose some sort of change at the department, according to the lawsuit.
In a city in which nearly half the population is of Armenian descent, the lawsuit threatened to draw out some of the political vitriol of years past.
Officials from the Armenian National Committee Glendale chapter sent out e-mails last week praising new Police Chief Ron De Pompa for reaching out to the organization and for planning to launch a cultural sensitivity training program and revamped recruitment video geared to Armenians.
But in a statement from the group’s attorney, Carney Shegerian, the city was called out for having a police department that “has allowed itself to systemically discriminate against an ethnic group that, in large part, fled their homelands to avoid ethnic persecution.”
He went on to call the fact that relatively few Armenians work for the force given their proportion of the population in Glendale “statistically outrageous.”
The officers were ready to testify to the wrongdoings that they experienced while on the job, Shegerian added.
“It’s not positive,” he said.
The City Council is scheduled to discuss the lawsuit in closed session today.