By Amy Taxin/ Associated Press
WESTMINSTER, Calif. (AP) _ Three Latino police officers have sued their Southern California employer, alleging they have been passed over for promotions because of their ethnicity.
The officers for the Westminster Police Department say they have been turned down for special assignments including detective work in narcotics and gangs even though they have received honors, awards and good performance reviews.
The officers started to suspect they were being discriminated against when they realized all three of them were being passed over despite their exemplary records, said Victor Viramontes, who is the plaintiffs’ attorney and national senior counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“It’s particularly troubling when the discriminator is a police department, a department that has a sacred public trust to serve the entire community and to enforce the laws,” MALDEF President Thomas Saenz said at a news conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday announcing the filing of the suit.
Lt. Dan Schoonmaker, a Police Department spokesman, said he could not comment on the lawsuit because the city was only notified of the filing Wednesday. But he said the department has a policy of “zero tolerance” for discrimination.
Viramontes said the three officers were passed over for at least 30 positions combined and repeatedly saw white officers with fewer qualifications getting promoted in the ethnically diverse city 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles. That prompted them to file complaints last year with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Brian Perez, who has worked for the Orange County city since 2003, said he applied for a detective position a few years ago but lost to a white candidate with no college or military experience and only a year on the job. Perez, who is also a U.S. Marine Corps major, said he has received several awards and positive performance evaluations from the Police Department.
“It is glaring to the point where I can’t figure out anything else except discrimination,” he said.
The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit in federal court last month, and the city was served with the complaint Wednesday, Viramontes said. The officers are seeking monetary damages and promotion to the positions they say they deserve.
Viramontes said roughly a dozen officers in the 90-officer department are Latino. No one told the plaintiffs their ethnicity had played a role in their evaluation, he said.