Cop awarded $1.2 million in discrimination lawsuit ASSOCIATED PRESS March 18, 2009
SANTA ANA – A Newport Beach police sergeant was awarded $1.2 million yesterday after a jury agreed with his claims that he was discriminated against based on false rumors that he was gay.
Sgt. Neil Harvey, a 27-year veteran, alleged in his lawsuit that the city retaliated against him because of the gossip and denied him a lieutenant position although he had more experience and formal education than other candidates. Harvey claimed former Police Chief Bob McDonell didn't promote those perceived to be gay.
Harvey acknowledged after the jury's decision he felt some apprehension about returning to work today after taking three weeks off for the court proceedings. “I know that I came here and I told the truth,” he said. “With that in mind, I return to work.”
The trial showed deep divisions in the department, with several rank-and-file officers testifying in support of Harvey's claims and several higher ranking members trying to dispel the allegations.
The city claimed Harvey wasn't promoted to other positions because of a hypercritical style that bothered colleagues. Jurors were not swayed, with two of them saying after the verdict that being detail-oriented was a weak reason for denying someone advancement.
Harvey has a lengthy résumé that includes an advanced college education and a top award for bravery.
In addition, the seven-woman, five-man jury agreed that Harvey faced retaliation for, among other things, defending an officer he thought was unfairly criticized by a superior.
The $1.2 million award includes economic damages – wages and pension benefits resulting from lost promotions – and compensation for enduring mistreatment.
An attorney for the city wouldn't say if an appeal would be pursued, but Police Chief John Klein appeared willing to let the matter rest.