SHPD lieutenant claims police chief racially discriminated him when applying for captain position

According to a lawsuit, SHPD Lt. Sagmit was denied a job in 2017 because of his Filipino origin.

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SHPD lieutenant claims police chief racially discriminated him when applying for captain position

Lt. Ronald Sagmit

Lt. Ronald Sagmit

cityofsignalhill.org

Lt. Ronald Sagmit

cityofsignalhill.org

cityofsignalhill.org

Lt. Ronald Sagmit

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A Signal Hill Police Department (SHPD) lieutenant is alleging that officials neglected to promote him in 2017 because of his Filipino origin, according to a First Amended Complaint emailed to the Signal Tribune last week.

Per the claim, Lt. Ronald Sagmit filed a complaint of employment discrimination on Jan. 5, 2018, with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), citing that officials with the SHPD– specifically police chief Christopher Nunley– racially discriminated against him.

In the document provided by Sagmit’s attorney, Marc Coleman, to the Signal Tribune, the form reads that the department allegedly failed to promote Sagmit to police captain and provided misleading information about job applications because he is Filipino.

“[…] They discriminated against him on the basis of his race and national origin […] and failed to give him equal consideration in making employment decisions based on defendants’ preference for white candidates,” the form reads.

cityofsignalhill.org
Police Chief Christopher Nunley

The Signal Tribune reached out to the SHPD this week to get a comment from Nunley about the issue, but the department deferred the request to the City’s deputy city manager, Hannah Shin-Heydorn.

On Thursday afternoon, Shin-Heydorn provided a statement from Signal Hill Mayor Lori Woods.

“Although I cannot comment on matters of pending litigation, I would like to use this opportunity to highlight the Signal Hill Police Department’s values of integrity, loyalty, communication, family and responsibility,” Woods said. “Each and every member of our police department is committed to excellence in service. Our dedicated employees reflect these values in the work they do each and every day.”

Sagmit has been employed with the SHPD since Jan. 15, 2000, beginning his career as a volunteer reserve police officer. He was promoted as a full-time lieutenant in 2011. During his tenure, Sagmit has been promoted seven times and has received awards in recognition of his service.

The complaint goes on to list allegations of misconduct, such as a purported incident in which current police chief Nunley informed an SHPD lieutenant– described as Caucasian– of a job opening for captain in 2017, but failed to officially inform Sagmit. The document stated that Sagmit learned of the opening “by word of mouth” weeks later.

Only two candidates– including Sagmit– applied and made it on the eligibility list for the captain position. By the end of the application period, both candidates were not recommended for the position.

The document emphasizes that Sagmit’s fellow lieutenant was the only other internal candidate competing for the job and opted to take his name off the eligibility list after learning he would not be promoted– leaving Sagmit as the sole candidate.

According to the allegations, chief Nunley and SHPD Cpt. Rich Rocchi told Lt. Sagmit at a June 2017 meeting that he should take his name off the eligibility list, as well. After Sagmit inquired why he would choose to do so, the claim shows that Cpt. Rocchi responded that it was the lieutenant’s chance to “save face.”

Sagmit chose to not remove his name from the list. The lawsuit reads that Sagmit was then given “documented counseling” over evaluations he had conducted of employees under his supervision– something that seemed unnecessary, the form suggests. He later learned that the captain position was opened to outside candidates after officials realized Sagmit was the sole applicant.

The lawsuit lists other allegations that occurred sometime after the captain job opening in 2017, such as “unwarranted criticisms for minor issues” regarding Sagmit’s division about occurrences that the lieutenant “could not have possibly known about.”

Later, the document purports other multiple attempts to sabotage Sagmit’s credibility, including alleged misinformation about the captain position (being relabeled into a deputy chief position), leniency with fellow employees who committed violations while the lieutenant would receive strict criticism, and other examples.

The lawsuit concludes that the pattern of behavior within the SHPD had Sagmit discern that the motivations for officials’ actions were racially charged.

In a phone interview Thursday, Coleman said the department, after the lawsuit, offered Sagmit a promotion to captain and $100,000. As of press time, Sagmit and his attorney have opted to maintain their lawsuit and are requesting a trial by jury for September.

Coleman said he is going to take the depositions of other SHPD officers and staff and others who have left or may be leaving the department to get more information about issue, because he believes “this is a bigger problem.”

“There are some underlying racial issues in the department,” Coleman said. “There’s not just a segment, but it’s a number of other officers, as well, who have left within the last recent months. I think there are six minority employees, which is a lot considering it’s a small department.”

All case documents and information can be found at lacourt.org by searching “Case No. BC 706721.”