$2 million jury award in retaliation claim

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 2, 2014 - 12:19 am

A jury in Sacramento federal court has awarded a former investigator at the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office more than $2 million after finding she was subjected to retaliation for complaining about gender discrimination in the office.

Janis Trulsson alleged she complained two or three times about gender discrimination and subsequently lost her job when her position was eliminated.

Two days after her ouster, Trulsson filed a gender discrimination complaint with the county against District Attorney James Willett. Several months later, according to Trulsson, the position of chief investigator opened up, but she was not considered for the job, and a less-qualified man was hired.

In 1995, Trulsson followed in her father’s footsteps by leaving the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department, where she had been a deputy for 14 years, to become a district attorney’s investigator. The next year, she was promoted to lieutenant, the highest rank ever attained by a woman in the office. She had risen to assistant chief investigator when she was terminated in July 2011.

Seven jurors deliberated roughly 13 1/2 hours and delivered their verdict Friday, the trial’s 14th day.

The panel awarded her $73,625 for past lost earnings and benefits, $439,757 for future lost earnings and benefits, and $1,546,326 for pain and suffering; a total of $2,059,708.

Lawyers for the county claimed in court papers Willett eliminated the assistant chief’s position because his office was in the throes of a tight budgetary squeeze.

The man hired as chief investigator in 2012 “had high level investigatory experience, calm and measured analytical ability, good judgment, and strong skills to lead a decimated investigations bureau,” the defense lawyers contended.

Chief Deputy County Counsel Kristen Hegge said Tuesday, “We disagree with the jury’s finding. We believe the award is excessive and don’t think it is justified by the facts.”

Hegge pointed out that the jury rejected Trulsson’s claim that she was a victim of gender discrimination.

“We are pleased about that,” Hegge said. “That was really her main complaint.”

Hegge said her office, along with outside trial counsel, is examining the case for possible issues that could form an appeal.

Call The Bee’s Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.

Read more articles by Denny Walsh

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