A former Montebello police detective has sued the city, saying she was subjected to “pervasive gender discrimination” that included uneven enforcement of a coronavirus vaccine mandate.
Maria Chavez alleges in the lawsuit that her male colleagues’ applications for religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate were largely “rubber stamped,” while her application was “denied due to her gender.”
Chavez was placed on administrative leave in December 2021 for failing to comply with the mandate and was fired in January, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Wednesday and also names several city employees as defendants.
The lawsuit characterizes the denial of Chavez’s religious exemption and her subsequent firing as part of a broader pattern of gender discrimination.
Chavez alleges that the city and the police department merely “used the vaccine mandate to terminate one of the few female detectives in the department, and notably the one who complained about the department’s hostility towards female officers.”
Michael Chee, a city spokesperson, said city officials have not had a chance to review the lawsuit and do not typically comment on litigation.
City Manager René Bobadilla and Human Resources Director Nicholas Razo, who are listed as defendants, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Chavez submitted a written application for a vaccine exemption in fall 2021, citing “Scripture and her sincere religious beliefs.” In a short interview with Razo, he told her that he was there “to collect the paperwork” and that “everything looked good,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit does not specify Chavez’s religion, and her lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Several weeks later, Chavez received a letter denying her exemption request and stating that she failed to identify a specific religious doctrine that would prevent her from receiving the vaccine, according to the lawsuit. But Chavez alleges that Razo never asked about her religious beliefs during the interview, nor did he seek any clarifying information.
Chavez “was treated differently throughout the vaccine mandate process” because of her gender, the lawsuit says, further alleging that exemptions were granted to male colleagues who were “close personal friends” of Razo.
The lawsuit contends that hostility toward women “permeated” the police department, citing “offensive language being used to describe women” that included a crude term for female genitalia, “offensive literature” posted on department property and Chavez being denied a promotion “in favor of lesser qualified male officers.”
A department memo posted on an office wall implied that employees who file complaints do so because they have “woman-like hormones” and suggested that Midol, a drug used to alleviate period symptoms, could be provided to employees suffering from “hurt feelings,” according to the lawsuit.
Chavez’s lawsuit also asserts that she “had personal knowledge that other female officers were both sexually assaulted and sexually harassed” and that she complained to Razo, the human resources director, about “these harassing events” and other examples of gender discrimination.
No action was taken after she complained, according to the lawsuit.