A Los Angeles Superior Court plaintiff received a $1 million settlement for her lawsuit against the city for discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Plaintiff Danielle Wells, a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) employee, filed a government tort claim and eventually a lawsuit against the City for serious violations of California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and of Labor Code § 1102.5.
Wells began working for the LAPD in 1995. After several years and a promotion to Sergeant, she experienced medical complications related to her pregnancy in 2009. Wells’s Area Commanding Officer, Captain III William Hayes, actually complained that Wells would be off “IOD” (Injured on Duty) due to her medical complications. LAPD Command Staff violated company policy by demanding Wells return her gun and badge while she remained on maternity leave.
When Wells returned to work on light duty status (with some medical restrictions), Captain Wall refused to let her work until her medical restrictions were completely lifted. After Wells returned to work, she suffered a serious knee injury, which eventually led to surgery. An investigation was launched by the LAPD into Wells’s “long history of going IOD,” and the police department continued to prohibit Wells from returning to work until she was again capable of a full duty workload.
When the LAPD ordered Wells to return to work with restrictions, her immediate supervisors continued to violate her work restrictions. At one point, Area Commanding Officer Captain Nancy Lauer ordered Sergeant Catherine Plows to visit Wells’s physician’s office in gun, badge and uniform. Plows was ordered to intimidate and influence Wells’s doctor into lifting some of his medical work restrictions Wells practice to prevent further injury to her knee. When Wells’s doctor refused to change her work restrictions, Captain Lauer called the doctor’s medical office and threatened to report him to the California Medical Board.
Wells’s attorneys’ Matthew S. McNicholas is a member of the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 Trial Attorneys. McNicholas is a partner with McNicholas & McNicholas and worked with fellow attorney Douglas Winter on the case. McNicholas has received countless multi-million dollar settlements and verdicts for plaintiffs, including practice areas ranging from mass torts litigation to employment litigation.
“Whistleblowers” are people who speak out about what their employers are doing by complaining to someone at their company. The statute Wells used to sue the city of Los Angeles, California Labor Code section 1102.5, is generally known as the “whistleblower law.” Section 1102.5 protects workers who report illegal conduct. In late 2013, Section 1102.5 was amended in several ways. Each amendment expanded the protections available to people who complain about conduct in their workplace.
Employees who complain of what they believe to be illegal conduct need not be right when they make their complaint. FEHA regulations and the Labor Code exist to encourage employees to come forward with their genuine employment complaints, so an employee need only have a “reasonable belief” that the employment conduct at issue is illegal. Under Section 1102.5, it technically did not matter whether Wells actually prevailed on her complaint against the LAPD. It only matters that the employment complaint is made in good faith, and Wells sincerely believed the LAPD’s actions were illegal.
The case is Wells v. City of Los Angeles, Case Number BC478742 in the Los Angeles Superior Court.