Trial under way for Valencia mom claiming CHP discrimination  

The badge for a California Highway Patrol officer

A trial is underway in Downtown Los Angeles for a lawsuit alleging the California Highway Patrol discriminated against an officer and single mom from Valencia who was passed over for a captain’s post six times. 

In a complaint filed in May 2020, CHP Lt. Laura Hill alleges she placed 15th out of 73 applicants and No. 1 in the Southern Division on the testing for promotions at the agency’s Assessment Center. The agency then promoted six men ahead of her who did not score as well on the exams to the rank of captain, according to her lawsuit. 

“The central issue of this case is whether CHP engaged in prohibited discriminatory activity and did not promote Hill due to her gender,” according to a trial brief filed by Hill’s attorney in January, following Judge Stephanie Bowick’s ruling in April 2023 that the case can go to trial. 

“Plaintiff has alleged CHP did not promote her to captain based on the gender-based stereotype a female that is a single mother could be unable to handle the demands of the captain position due to parental responsibilities.” 

The agency contends there was no discrimination. 

“There are over 80 captain commands (89) statewide within the CHP; only a fraction of those will become vacant in any given year (perhaps 15-20),” according to a trial brief filed on behalf of the CHP and the state. “Most of the candidates on any given eligibility list are not selected and have to apply again; plaintiff’s experience is not unique.” 

In her suit, Hill states she applied for captain positions at West Los Angeles (June 2018), West Valley (April 2019), Central Los Angeles (October 2019), Exposition Park (November 2019), Altadena (April 2020) and Ventura (April 2020).  

After an unsuccessful interview for the Central Los Angeles post, she met with CHP Southern Division Chief Chris Margaris at the It’s a Grind coffee shop in Castaic, which is described by the agency as a standard practice for commanders and officers looking to promote. 

The conversation that took place is critical to the suit, according to Hill’s lawyers. 

“Fundamental to plaintiff’s claim is Chief Margaris’ statement: ‘How can you be available as a captain as a single mom?’ Margaris could not have asked this question of a woman without children, nor a married woman, and he is unlikely to have asked it of a single father due to cultural stereotypes.” 

In addition to arguing that Margaris was not the decision-maker in the contested hirings, the agency offered a different version of the conversation, according to its pretrial briefing. 

“During the meeting, the subject of plaintiff’s recent divorce came up; plaintiff’s former husband was also a CHP officer, and thus they were both known to members of the force,” according to the CHP’s account. “Chief Margaris asked if she had the support and resources she needed, including from her family, and she said that she did.” 

Hill also alleges that leadership encouraged her to take a transfer to the Castaic Commercial Vehicle Enforcement unit, which would have been a transfer versus the promotion she was seeking. She is currently stationed there. 

Hill is seeking $2.5 million from the law enforcement agency: Nearly $1.5 million is estimated to be her lost wages; she’s also seeking “general damages for garden-variety emotional distress in the amount of $1,000,000.” 

The agency asserted in its trial brief that Hill stopped applying for vacancies after the Ventura position in 2020.  Attorneys for the CHP argued she could have mitigated her damages but didn’t through her lack of applications. 

“Almost two-thirds of all candidates on any eligibility list are unsuccessful, and (the) defendant will present evidence that many candidates (applied) to far more positions than plaintiff did, and many candidates were only successful after their second or third time on an eligibility list.” 

Testimony could wrap up this week, according to a court official who stated Tuesday the proceedings had already run longer than the scheduled time. 

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