Joaquin v. City of Los Angeles (California Ct. App. 01/23/2012)

A Los Angeles Police Department officer filed a sexual harassment claim with the department against his supervisor, and after investigating the officer’s claim, the department determined the claim was unfounded. In response, the supervisor filed an internal complaint against the officer alleging that the officer had filed a false sexual harassment claim. Various internal investigations led the department to conclude that terminating the officer’s employment was the appropriate disciplinary measure for the officer’s filing the unfounded charge. The officer sued for reinstatement, which the superior court granted. The officer then filed an action against the City of Los Angeles claiming retaliatory termination for filing a sexual harassment claim in contravention of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). A jury awarded the officer over $2 million for lost wages and emotional distress. The City appealed the verdict, and the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment, holding that the officer failed to introduce substantial evidence to support his contention that the department’s decision to terminate his employment was motivated by retaliatory animus or intent. Thus, in certain circumstances, an employer is permitted to discipline and/or terminate an employee for making false allegations, even if those allegations involve sexual harassment.