Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has approved a settlement payment of nearly $1.5 million to Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Officer Earl Wright, signaling the end of the city’s long legal fight with the veteran cop, who sued for racial harassment.
A jury awarded $1.5 million to Wright, who is black, after concluding his fellow officers and one superior officer violated the California Fair Employment and Housing Act when they harassed him because of his race. The jury award included $600,000 for past noneconomic damages, $600,000 for future noneconomic damages, and an additional $298,884 in attorneys’ fees.
Wright joined the LAPD in November 1989 and had been on the force for roughly 19 years when the harassment allegedly began, around 2008. Wright stated that in one case, a superior asked him if he was going to “pick watermelons” after he asked to leave work early. Another time, in celebration 20 years of police work, a district supervisor and 10 other officers presented Wright with a cake topped with fried chicken and watermelon.
Another time, Wright claimed a sergeant tacked up photos of him, captioned with racial themes, around the Central District police station. Wright cited one labeled “The Lost Jackson,” referring to him as a member of Michael Jackson’s family.
Wright claimed that the command staff and other superiors knew that the harassment was occurring, as the photos were in plain sight, but condoned the conduct and failed to respond to his complaints regarding the offensive behavior.
As a result of this constant harassment, Wright claimed he experienced anxiety, for which he was hospitalized and missed several months of work. He was still on the LAPD force when he filed his complaint.
Wright testified that his fellow officers’ behavior left him “very upset, embarrassed and humiliated.”
The city’s defense argued that the alleged conduct could not have been offensive to Wright because he readily engaged in the raced-based jokes with other officers, laughing during many of the incidents that he later claimed were harassment.
However, the jury found in Wright’s favor, saying that the city knew or should have known about the severe and pervasive harassment.