By BILL HETHERMAN
City News Service
Five former Los Angeles police recruits were each awarded more than $2 million today by a jury that found they were wrongfully denied temporary city jobs they sought while recovering from injuries suffered during training at the police academy.
The Los Angeles Superior Court panel deliberated for about two days before finding in favor of all five former recruits -- Anthony Lee, Ryan Atkins, Douglas Boss, Justin Desmond and Eriberto Orea. They sued the city in November 2010, maintaining that the city was required by law to accommodate them after they were hurt during training by giving them other jobs within the city until they recovered.
Atkins and Desmond were both awarded more than $2.6 million. Boss received $2.5 million, Lee $2.28 million and Orea $2.17 million. The majority portion of most of the money awarded the five was for lost future wages.
Some of the plaintiffs openly wept and hugged each other as the clerk read the verdicts, which took so long that she told Judge Frederick Shaller she needed a short break after finishing three of the five.
"I understand, it comes out to 100 questions," Shaller said.
In his final argument lsat Thursday, plaintiffs' lawyer Matthew McNicholas said his five clients were eager to work and were not particular about what they would do.
"These young guys ... were trying to start a career and a life," McNicholas said of the plaintiffs. "They were all willing to suck it up and say, 'Give me a job."'
Hundreds of jobs in total were available and acceptable to his clients at the time, McNicholas said. He argued they each were entitled to compensation for lost past and future wages, as well as for emotional distress.
Deputy City Attorney Richard Loomis countered that the city had no obligation to find alternative work for the former recruits.
"The jobs that were available were permanent jobs," Loomis said, telling jurors it would be a burden on other city departments to be forced to employ people on a temporary basis.
Atkins resigned and the others were fired. McNicholas said Atkins quit only because he feared he would never get a job with the LAPD if he was terminated.
Lawyers for the City Attorney's Office argued that the five recruits were "conditional employees" who were unable to perform the essential functions of their job, and the city, therefore, had no obligation to place them elsewhere.
The city's attorneys also maintained that the recruits could have returned to the academy after their injuries healed. Atkins decided against coming back after being told he would have to begin his training anew, according to defense attorneys.
But McNicholas said Atkins was told he would have to start all over again because he was close to the time in which he would have been sworn in and given additional rights.
According to lawyers for the former recruits, the LAPD at one time swore in all cadets on their first day at the academy, which not only made them sworn officers under law but also gave them protections afforded regular officers who face firing, such as a Board of Rights hearing.
The LAPD later changed the policy so that recruits could be fired as if they were at-will employees, according to the plaintiffs' attorneys. However, as part of a settlement agreement, the Los Angeles Police Protective League insisted that the cadets still be afforded the chance to make a lateral transfer to another position without having to take an exam, the plaintiffs' attorneys said.
"They were sick of the sick and disabled people," McNicholas told jurors. "They didn't want to pay for it anymore."
McNicholas said the humiliation the men suffered was significant.
"Some had the greatest misfortune to feel they were no longer good enough for the women in their lives," McNicholas said.