Catherine Denise Cranford, Surf City Lesbian Jailer, Loses Appeal of City Harassment Suit

The state appeals court in Santa Ana refused to overturn a lower court judgment against the lawsuit of a former Huntington Beach jailer who claimed she was discriminated against because she is lesbian and retaliated against because she complained about it. The Orange County Superior Court jury in Cranford v. City of Huntington Beach had found Catherine Denise Cranford's medical privacy rights were violated but no harm occurred. The appeals court concurred.

Cranford and Kelli Herrera, who was originally a defendant in the case but eventually dismissed, were city detention officers who were promoted to supervisor positions in 2004. The pair did not get along, and Cranford claimed that in October 2005 she learned Herrera was talking about the plaintiff's sexual orientation and private life to coworkers.

She was considering filing a complaint with her boss, Jail Administrator Dale Miller, when Cranford says she learned Herrera already complained to Miller about Cranford. Claiming Herrera warned her not to "play the gay card," Cranford says she was intimidated against filing the complaint.

Cranford's original complaint claimed Herrera repeatedly dissed her job performance to Miller, something the suit characterized as retaliation. Noting Cranford was nominated Supervisor of the Year for 2006, she claims her bosses knew the dirt about the job she was doing were baseless, and by failing to control Herrera they helped create a hostile workplace.

This also spilled over into the jail, Cranford claimed, when, as acting jail administrator, she admonished an arresting officer for violating the privacy of a gay prisoner by yelling to the crew he was HIV+ . The look the officer shot back, as if to say do something about it, proved to Cranford the atmosphere was toxic.

She left work in 2007 and filed a stress claim. In June of that year, her therapist, Denise Davis, sent the Huntington Beach worker's compensation office a letter stating that workplace harassment over Cranford's sexual orientation led to her stress. The letter included Cranford's various diagnoses, medications, details about a domestic partnership ending and foreclosure on her home, and other personal information.

Somehow, the letter ended up in the hands of the Huntington Beach police chief.

He whipped it out in front of Cranford to go over her sexual harassment allegations. Horrified over this and treatment from Herrera on the job, Cranford resigned in April 2008. She then sued the city, alleging she suffered workplace harassment by a co-worker due to her sexual orientation, and retaliation by the city for having complained about the harassment in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Cranford also alleged her medical privacy rights were violated by the city forwarding her letter to the chief.

The trial judge found Cranford had not produced evidence proving she was harassed over her sexual orientation, nor had she shown the city had retaliated against her. She was not fired, demoted, nor written up, after all. Meanwhile, the therapist letter was only associated with a privacy complaint, not as further evidence of retaliation by the city. In a special verdict, the jury found it was a mistake to forward the letter, but not an actionable one.

With the trial court's final decision failing to go her way, Cranford appealed on grounds the judge mistakenly rejected causes of action under state law, that he abused his discretion by denying her motions to exclude certain evidence, and that the jury erred in its special verdict finding that she had not been harmed. In her opinion filed Friday, appeals Justice Kathleen O'Leary writes that none of the evidence suggests the trial judge or jury erred in their decisions.

Talk about from bad to worse: the three-justice panel, rounded out by judges Eileen Moore and Richard Fybel, concluded Cranford must pick up the city's attorney fees.

Read the appellate opinion HERE.

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