City: Officer's Health Claims for Not Wearing Masks Outdoors `Nonsensical'

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The claims of a Los Angeles police officer who sued the city alleging he was harassed and subjected to a backlash by the department for not wearing a face covering while working outdoors are ``nonsensical,'' lawyers for the City Attorney's Office say in a new motion to dismiss the complaint.

LAPD Officer Rick Knoph's Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, filed last June 16, alleges discrimination, retaliation, failure to accommodate and failure to engage in the interactive process. He says his doctors advised him that due to a medical condition, it's safe for him to wear masks indoors, but not outside.

"It's nonsensical to suggest that (Knoph) can't wear a mask outdoors during traffic stops, to protect himself and the public from COVID, but can wear a mask indoors to protect himself and his coworkers from the same disease,'' the City Attorney's Office states in court papers filed Monday.

A hearing on the city's motion to dismiss Knoph's suit is scheduled for May 11 before Judge Kevin Brazile.

Knoph has worked at various LAPD divisions for the past 23 years, his suit states. In May 2020, the department implemented a policy requiring all officers to wear a face covering when they are in contact with the public or cannot socially distance form co-workers.

``This policy did not provide exceptions for officers with disabilities,'' according to the suit, which further alleges the LAPD knew Knoph has a longtime respiratory illness.

Later that month, the department revised its face covering policy to make an exception for officers with a documented medical exemption, the suit states. From May 18, 2020 to July 30, 2020, Knoph received three citizen complaints, all alleging that he did not wear a face covering during traffic stops, the suit states.

Knoph gave a doctor's note to his supervisor stating that the benefits of him not wearing a mask when working outside outweighed the risks, but also indicating that he should don one when he was indoors, the suit states. However, the department found against the plaintiff in all three citizen complaints, concluding that Knoph's actions ``could have been different,'' according to his suit.

The LAPD counseled Knoph about wearing a face covering and told him his actions were not justified because his physician's note did not expressly prohibit him from wearing a mask or other covering, according to the suit.

 Late in July 2020, Capt. Andrew Neiman called Knoph's doctor without the plaintiff's permission ``in order to have plaintiff's medical restriction altered to fit the department's agenda,'' the suit states.

Neiman ``lied to plaintiff's physician when he advised her that he had plaintiff's permission and consent to contact her, discuss plaintiff's medical case and ask her to change the wording of his doctor's note such that plaintiff would not be exempt from wearing a mask at work,'' the suit states.

Knoph reported Neiman's alleged actions to a supervisor, saying he was being discriminated against on the basis of his disability and being retaliated against for requesting a medical accommodation and for refusing to participate in activity that he believed violated was illegal. However, the supervisor allegedly did not report Knoph's complaint and instead told the plaintiff, ``Do what you have to do.''

Knoph then filed an internal complaint against Neiman alleging discrimination, harassment and retaliation, the suit states. His career has been ``materially and adversely affected, and irreparably harmed and damaged by the conduct of the defendants,'' according to the suit.

Knoph also has suffered damage to his reputation, his ability to promote and his ability to be selected for other units, the suit states.

But according to the City Attorney's Office's court papers, doctors' notes offered by Knoph in support of his medical condition in June and July of 2020 did not state that he was restricted or prohibited from wearing a face covering while outdoors.

Furthermore, the doctor's recommendation is the same as the LAPD's policy requiring all officers to wear a mask or other face covering when they come into contact with the public or cannot socially distance form co-workers, according to the court papers.

Rejecting Knoph's retaliation claim, the City Attorney's Office states that counseling the officer for not wearing a mask ``does not constitute an adverse employment action.''

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