Former UC Davis Police officer Calvin Chang filed a lawsuit yesterday against the University of California Regents and UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza alleging racial and sexual orientation discrimination, retaliation, fraud and breach of contract. He is seeking $3 million in damages.
Chang, an openly gay Asian American, alleges he was subjected to harassment including homophobic slurs, a death threat and retaliation by his superiors after filing complaints.
Chang, a UC Davis alumnus from 1992, has a long history of difficulties with the UCDPD. First hired in 2002, Chang was terminated during his probationary period in 2003 and termed a “high risk” officer for his involvement in three traffic accidents at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.
However, Sacramento police records show only two accidents, both of which were determined not to be Chang’s fault. After Chang filed a complaint with Vice Chancellor of Administration Stan Nosek for discrimination, UCDPD reinstated him in Nov. 2003, citing “some confusion” on the matter.
Chang alleged that after the department discovered his sexual orientation, his supervisor referred to him as “fucking fag” – a claim that was confirmed by two other officers present at the time, Chang said. That supervisor was later promoted to internal affairs.
Immediately after his reinstatement, Chang claims he was the victim of further harassment and discrimination.
“Internal Affairs launched an investigation against me my first day back on the job in 2003 alleging I was insubordinate for talking about my discrimination complaint,” Chang said.
Chang also received a handwritten death threat after returning to work. Police Chief Annette Spicuzza said she “could not identify” which officer wrote the note and in response to complaints of discrimination, Chang alleges she asked him “Why don’t you leave?,” according to a press release sent out by Chang’s attorney.
Chang filed a civil suit against the UC regents in 2005 for discrimination and harassment. In April 2008, he agreed to leave the department as part of a $240,000 settlement in which the university promised to stop all internal affairs investigations and remove various entries in his personnel file, Chang said.
“I agreed because the city of Davis [Police Department] was doing my background investigation,” Chang said. “But after they looked over my personnel file they decided not to hire me.“
Chang alleges that in a breach of the settlement contract, UCDPD put over 100 pages of content in his file without telling him.
“That is illegal to do without giving the officer time to respond,” he said. “They ruined my career.“
The current lawsuit names Police Chief Annette Spicuzza specifically in addition to the regents due to her role in crafting the allegedly breached contract.
“The university has not yet been served with that lawsuit,” said Julia Ann Easley, UC Davis spokesperson.
Chief Spicuzza and the UCDPD did return requests for comment by press time.
“The misrepresentations that were made were primarily by [Spicuzza],” said Anthony Luti, Chang’s attorney of the Luti Law Firm in Los Angeles. “She sat in the settlement meeting and knew exactly what was supposed to happen.“
While the money has already been paid out, Chang is seeking to rescind that agreement.
“He agreed to it because he thought he would be able to continue living his life as a police officer,” Luti said. “What he didn’t realize is that the things that were not disclosed to him in his file were basically career suicide.“
The settlement was reported to the Board of Regents‘ Committee on Finance, but university policy dictates that settlements below $250,000 don’t need board approval.
“You don’t pay someone that kind of money if your case is meritless,” Luti said.
Two weeks after the settlement, the university notified Chang it would be purchasing back his home of 10 years in Aggie Village, for which he holds a 99-year lot lease.
“I started looking for an attorney the moment they started to take my house,” Chang said. “They wanted to buy it at half the value and I never would have sold that house, it’s priceless to me.“
After Chang filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the university agreed to cease the action. In a letter to Chang, Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef explained the incident as “a result of administrative error” and that there was “no evidence these actions were intended to be retaliatory,” according to Chang’s press release.
“Between 2006 and 2007 I wrote at least three e-mail complaints to [Chancellor Vanderhoef] asking him to stop the retaliation but he never did,” Chang said. “I got the e-mail read receipts from him but he never sent back a reply.“
Chang said that over the course of his employment, he filed several written complaints with the university.
UC Davis has a set process for dealing with employee complaints beginning with a departmental review, followed by a step two appeal done outside the department, said Dawn Capp, assistant director of employee and labor relations for UC Davis.
“Some allegations are eligible for a step three and discrimination usually is one that is,” Capp said. “Step three is often at the Office of the President level. Step four is binding arbitration.“
Out of over 20 acts of alleged retaliation, Chang took several to step two and one to step three, which could have gone to final arbitration but was resolved by the settlement, Chang said.
“The university denied each and every act of harassment,” Chang said.
Chang claims that following his reinstatement, he was put under surveillance and routinely followed by a supervisor while on duty. Chang, who says in 22 years as an officer he has never had a citizen complaint, also contends that the department unsuccessfully solicited citizens to file complaints against him.
Chang is seeking upwards of $3 million in damages for loss of his career, emotional distress, his public safety pension as well as reinstatement to his position with UCDPD.
“I’ve spent my entire life at Davis,” Chang said. “There’s nothing as great as being in my dream career, patrolling where I was a student, driving by the tree where I studied.
“On top of that, no other police department will hire me because I made a complaint.“
Luti said the next step is to serve the defendants, after which they will have 30 days to respond. The parties will then go to a case management conference. Luti predicts a trial date in one to one and a half years.
ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at email@example.com.