A Black Los Angeles police officer who works in the department’s Media Relations Division who sued the city, alleging the director referred to him and a Black colleague as “boys,” did not agree to settle his complaint for $50,000 and can take his case to trial, a judge ruled Thursday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Theresa M. Traber denied a motion by the City Attorney’s Office to confirm what its lawyers maintained was an enforceable settlement with plaintiff Raymond Brown, the LAPD officer whose whistleblower suit alleges he was denied promotions for complaining about discrimination and harassment and because management believed he would testify in support of a supervisor who is also suing the city.
The City Attorney’s Office maintained that an email exchange in which a lawyer for Brown stated he was authorized to settle the case for $50,000 was enough to create a valid, binding accord, the judge wrote.
However, no memo or settlement agreement was ever signed by either party or their attorneys, nor was any resolution announced on the record before the judge, according to Traber, who further said the City Attorney’s Office did not cite any law establishing that an email exchange in such a situation could be seen as a signed written settlement.
“Even if it were possible to so bind the parties, defendant’s own evidence shows that the parties were still negotiating the terms of the agreement,” Traber wrote. “The city of Los Angeles will have to do better than to file a two-page motion consisting of conclusory assertions if it wishes to secure any form of relief from this court.”
Brown was hired by the LAPD in 2005 and in 2015 was assigned to the online unit in the Media Relations Division, according to his complaint filed in May 2020.
Brown alleges that in late 2017, Josh Rubenstein — who as commanding officer of the LAPD’s Public Communications Group oversees the sworn and civilian staff of the Media Relations Division — asked Brown and another Black officer, “How are you boys?,” and repeated the greeting to the pair within a week.
The term “boy” has historically been used to degrade and dehumanize Black men, so the two officers asked Rubenstein not to address them that way again, according to the suit, which alleges Rubenstein “dismissively” responded that he would be mindful of their request, then left “visibly angry.”
Days later, Rubenstein addressed Brown and the other Black officer as “boys” yet again, but this time in “a snide and mocking tone of voice,” the suit alleges.
Within a week, Rubenstein made the remark for a fourth time and was overheard by Capt. Patricia Sandoval, who apologized to Brown and the other Black officer and told them that she informed Rubenstein it was “not cool” to address them in such a manner, the suit alleges.
The suit alleges that both Sandoval and Rubenstein, who are not defendants in the suit, subsequently became “cold and dismissive” toward the two Black officers and that both made statements indicating they would not advance within the unit and should transfer.
In October 2018, Brown applied for two promotions within the unit, and although he was the most qualified for both jobs, Rubenstein and Sandoval picked other candidates, according to the plaintiff’s court papers.
In April 2019, the supervisor for both Black officers, Sgt. Frank Preciado, sued the city for alleged race discrimination, race harassment and retaliation. Preciado alleged he experienced retaliation after he complained about being banned from speaking Spanish.
Brown and the other Black officer both complained to Preciado about allegedly being addressed by Rubenstein as “boys” and the sergeant then told Sandoval, Brown’s suit alleges.
Brown, who was again denied a promotion in July 2019, believes he did not get the job because management in Media Relations believed he would testify on behalf of Preciado in the sergeant’s lawsuit, according to his lawsuit.
Brown has lost income, overtime, pension and other privileges and benefits, as well as suffered damage to his reputation and to his ability to obtain promotions due to the LAPD’s alleged retaliation, according to the suit, which is set for trial on Aug. 29, 2023.