A former chief of the Baldwin Park Police Department won a $7 million settlement Tuesday for a gender discrimination lawsuit she filed against the city nearly five years earlier.
The suit alleges Lili Hadsell, chief of police from 2008 to 2013, was subjected to sexist treatment that ultimately led to her firing. It also accuses the department of promoting Hadsell to the position as a form of “tokenism” as the city “paraded her around as a prop to celebrate themselves for having a female police chief.”
Hadsell reported the harassment multiple times to officials including her supervisor, city council members, the city manager and Baldwin Park Mayor Manuel Lozano, who dismissed her concerns when she first complained nearly 10 years ago, according to her attorney Carney Shegerian.
In addition to facing years of harassment spearheaded by a male police captain who felt more deserving of the top position, Hadsell was also paid significantly less than that same official when he replaced her in 2013, Shegerian said.
Public records show Michael Taylor earned more than $60,000 more annually than Hadsell upon replacing her in the exact same position. In 2013, the year she was fired, Hadsell earned $229,053.89 in total pay and benefits. In just his first year, Taylor earned $291,089.
In a written statement, Lozano said he stood by hiring Hadsell and that he was “perplexed why Councilwoman Cruz Baca, Councilwoman Susan Rubio and Councilmember Ricardo Pacheco voted in favor of her release.”
Baldwin Park police could not be reached for comment and Pacheco did not return emailed requests for comment.
The $7,020,000 settlement awarded Tuesday follows a drawn out legal battle between Hadsell and the city of Baldwin Park. The lawsuit was first filed on June 13, 2014 but a number of claims were dismissed in the following months before it was refiled on Feb. 13, 2015.
“The City of Baldwin Park was greatly disappointed to learn that the Los Angeles Superior Court and its jury awarded former Baldwin Park Police Chief Lili Hadsell seven million dollars at today’s court ruling,” the city said in a written statement.
While the lawsuit alleges Hadsell was targeted with sexist criticisms upon being named head of the department, city and police officials are also accused of discriminating against her years earlier.
Hadsell worked for the city of Baldwin Park for 14 years, beginning on Dec. 27, 1999, according to the lawsuit. That year she was promoted to lieutenant over then-Sgt. Michael Taylor, allegedly leading to an ongoing pattern of harassment from him and city council member Ricardo Pacheco.
The promotion was given to Hadsell even though she had not even applied for the position “because of her stellar work performance,” the lawsuit states, “and due to her token status as a female officer.”
She was already a decorated officer upon joining the force, previously earning Employee of the Year, the Outstanding Service Award and other commendations at the San Marino Police Department, according to the Baldwin Park Police Department website. Hadsell was just the second female officer there when she was hired in 1983.
In Baldwin Park, Hadsell’s tenure as chief was “met with hostile reactions because she is a woman and Peruvian,” according to the lawsuit. Specifically, Shegerian said, Hadsell’s ethnicity was often “mocked” by the department largely made up of white and other Hispanic officers. He said online blogs popped up accusing Hadsell of being in the Peruvian mafia.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit states some of the sexist remarks lodged against her were comments Taylor and Pacheco made to her subordinates, saying “a woman cannot do this [chief of police] job” and Hadsell “took Mike Taylor’s job.”
It was common for members of the department to say, “I’m not going to call that woman police chief,” with many often referring to her as “that woman,” according to Shegerian.
“These comments were made continuously throughout her career and were demonstrated through Taylor’s insubordination,” the suit states.
Taylor, in particular, was described in the lawsuit as being “consistently insubordinate” to Hadsell’s orders — calling her “dear” and instigating insubordination in fellow officers.
In 2009, Hadsell reorganized the department and took Taylor out of the chain of command — an action that triggered an angry response from Pacheco, according to the suit. He allegedly called her at 10:30 p.m. one night screaming, demanding she resign and threatening to make her if she didn’t.
However, the city council blocked an attempt by Pacheco to have Hadsell fired, the suit explains, prompting him to try again in 2013 once another political supporter of his was elected to the council.
Hadsell reported the ongoing harassment in April 2009, addressing multiple officials including Mayor Lozano about her concerns, according to Shegerian. Six months later, in October, the city council publicly censured council member Pacheco for his involvement, he said.
The former chief continued reporting the harassment and when she again complained during a meeting with the mayor and her supervisor, Vijay Singhal, Mayor Lozano simply responded: “I know [Taylor] is an —hole, but he is like a brother and he is not going anywhere,” according to the suit.
When a city council seat needed to be filled in 2013, Pacheco successfully had a political surrogate fill the position — allowing him to again try having Hadsell terminated, according to the suit.
Hadsell was fired on Dec. 10, 2013, and Mayor Lozano said she had been “dismissed without cause,” the suit alleges. Shegerian said the announcement was public and no other reason was given for her termination.
Taylor then replaced Hadsell as chief of police.
But he was abruptly fired from the department in 2016 before being reinstated just over a year later — with a $20,000 raise in annual pay, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.
In December 2017, city officials agreed to a yearlong contract with Taylor in which he can only be fired if he commits a felony, according to the Los Angeles Times. He would otherwise be placed on administrative leave with pay. The agreement also prohibits city leaders from giving him annual performance evaluations.
The chief who had replaced Taylor in the months after he was fired, David Salcedo, was “dismissed without cause” after less than two months on the job, the Tribune reported.
Salcedo later sued the department in September 2017, alleging he was discriminated against because he is Latino and was asked to do corrupt favors for city officials, according to the Times.
The multimillion-dollar settlement includes damages for lost wages, emotional and psychological distress, humiliation, legal fees and other costs.