Ruling: Judge Wrongly Killed Anti-Gay Lawsuit Against Santa Ana Police

An Orange County judge wrongly blocked a onetime commanding officer at the Santa Ana Police Department (SAPD) from presenting her case to a jury that she faced illegal employment discrimination because she is a lesbian, according to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 

In its decision this week, a three-judge panel determined U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna  twice “incorrectly” applied the law by prematurely ending a lawsuit filed by Tammy Franks.

Once the highest-ranking woman at SAPD, Franks claims she was forced out of her job in 2015 after then-police chief Carlos Rojas used an anti-gay complaint from a low-ranking male cop to initiate a series of punitive actions that undermined her authority and ended her impressive 28-year career.

The anonymous complaint, we’ve learned was submitted by a cop who believes women shouldn’t be in law enforcement and wives shouldn’t speak less given permission, alleged that Franks created a “hostile work environment” for heterosexual male officers. 

But unlike male SAPD commanders who’d faced hostile work environment complaints, Rojas didn’t wait for an investigation before placing Franks on administrative leave; confiscating her badge, gun, building access card and police vehicle; and ordering her paraded out of headquarters like a criminal. 

The chief then took seven months to announce the complaint against Franks had been “unfounded,” but she believes her ability to manage her division had been permanently “damaged” after her reinstatement, so she reluctantly retired. 

Selna, a lifetime judicial appointee of President George W. Bush, botched the decision to award the City of Santa Ana summary judgment on two lawsuit claims by accepting at face value the government’s defenses. The appellate court said Franks had presented enough legitimate factual assertions for a future jury to decide if she’d been illegally singled-out for discrimination because of her sexual orientation and, secondly, if she’d be subjected to a hostile work environment. 

“Deposition testimony confirms there were numerous deviations from the City’s standard investigation practices, including but not limited to, (1) no other employee accused of the type of conduct alleged against Franks had ever been placed on administrative leave without a preliminary investigation; (2) no other employee with these allegations had been placed on administrative leave based on an anonymous complaint; (3) no other employee had ever been subjected to an absolute ’no contact’ order [with their underlings] without limiting it to the subject of the investigation,” the Ninth Circuit panel wrote.

The appellate judges continued, “And, in fact, the City’s [employment board] reviewing Frank’s investigation noted that her’ case appeared to have been handled differently than any others it had seen and questioned whether the way the police department handled this case constituted disparate treatment, especially considering Franks was the highest ranked female in the department’s history.”

In March 2016, Selna dismissed Franks lawsuit, ordered that she “take nothing,” and pay the City’s legal costs.

During December 2017 oral arguments at the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena, a lawyer for the City acknowledged Franks’ honors-loaded career, but claimed she didn’t produce “specific and substantial” evidence that she had been wronged because she is a lesbian.

The case will now resume inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse.

R. Scott Moxley’s award-winning investigative journalism has touched nerves for two decades. An angry congressman threatened to break Moxley’s knee caps. A dirty sheriff promised his critical reporting was irrelevant and then landed in prison. The U.S. House of Representatives debated his work. Federal prosecutors credited his stories for the arrest of a doctor who sold fake medicine to dying patients. Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.

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