Federal appeals panel reverses jury verdict in L.A. police officers’ retaliation case

Tuesday, August 22, 2000

A federal appeals court panel reversed a jury verdict for two Los
Angeles police officers who claimed they were retaliated against for
criticizing a superior officer.

Stanley D. Cochran and Dean Anderson claim they were transferred from
the LAPD's Foothill Division in 1994 after complaining that Lieutenant Kathy
Age treated minority officers more leniently than white officers. Cochran and
Anderson are white males, while Age is a black female. Their transfer papers
stated that both had created a hostile work environment.

The two officers sued the city in federal court in 1996, claiming a
violation of their First Amendment rights. They also sued under a state
whistleblower protection law.

In 1997, a federal jury awarded Anderson $100,000 and Cochran

On appeal, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals reversed the jury verdict, finding that the LAPD's interests in an
efficient workplace trumped the officers' free-speech rights.

Public employees alleging First Amendment claims must show that their
speech was on a matter of public concern and that their free-speech interests
outweigh the employer's interests.

The 9th Circuit panel agreed with the officers that their speech
touched on matters of public concern, writing: “The speech here did concern
matters which are relevant to the public's evaluation of its police

However, the panel determined in Cochran
v. City of Los Angeles
that the city's interests in a harmonious
police department outweighed the officer's free-speech interests. The panel
noted that the officers' speech “undermined” the authority of a superior
officer and created a hostile work environment.

“The nature of the speech [by the plaintiffs] was conducive to racial
and gender tension,” the panel wrote in its Aug. 17 opinion. “This disharmony
seems particularly troubling in a police station, where personal loyalty and
confidence are essential to the close working relationships among the

The case was returned to the lower court for further proceedings on
the plaintiffs' state-law claim.

Calls to attorneys on both sides of the case were not returned.

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