On May 17, 2016, after five weeks of trial and three days of deliberations, a jury found that our clients – four female law enforcement officers with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department – had suffered retaliation for speaking out about discrimination and gender favoritism in the department.
The jury collectively awarded the four plaintiffs – Annica Hagadorn, Dawn Douglas, Tracie Keillor, and Jodi Mendonca – over $3.5 million in economic and non-economic damages.
The plaintiffs had complained internally about gender and race discrimination in advancement opportunities and preferential treatment given to a female deputy who was romantically involved with a male captain. After their complaints, the careers of all four women were stalled and derailed. They were removed from their job positions, unfairly disciplined, subjected to punitive investigations, and passed over for promotions and specialty assignments. One of the plaintiffs also suffered a massive stroke from the immense stress caused by a retaliatory Internal Affairs investigation launched against her during the lawsuit.
Over several days of testimony, these four women told their story of how they were targeted and retaliated against for their complaints. The jury also heard testimony from the current Sheriff and Undersheriff, along with a stream of past and present law enforcement officers in the department. Ultimately, the jury found that the Sheriff’s Department had retaliated against all four of the plaintiffs.
“My former co-workers and I were fearful when we first decided to stand up to what was happening at the Sheriff’s Department, especially because people inside our workplace warned us that no one would take us seriously,” said plaintiff Jodi Mendonca. “But this verdict shows that people DO take retaliation and discrimination claims seriously.”
Aron K. Liang and Lisa P. Mak from Minami Tamaki LLP served as co-lead trial counsel along with the Law Offices of Jerry Chong and Alice Wong in Sacramento. The SF-based Equal Rights Advocates also assisted in this important case.
“Employees have a right to stand up to injustice in their jobs without fear,” said Aron Liang of Minami Tamaki. “And those in power should not be able to retaliate against them with impunity. That was the central message of this case.”
The lawsuit was filed six years ago in 2010 in Sacramento Superior Court. The fact-intensive nature of employment disputes and the copious amounts of evidence at play can make such lawsuits very contentious.
“We are incredibly proud of the long road our clients have traveled to justice. They believed that taking a stand against the Sheriff’s Department was the right thing to do, even though it was hard,” said Lisa Mak of Minami Tamaki LLP.
“Our clients will leave a legacy of making a difference. Their victory will show members of law enforcement – both men and women – the importance of speaking out, telling their stories, and vindicating their rights in the workplace,” added Jerry Chong, of the Law Offices of Jerry Chong and Alice Wong.