A jury should decide whether the sheriff's deputy who arrested Mel Gibson for drunken driving suffered workplace discrimination, a judge ruled Thursday despite expressing serious concerns about whether the man can win his case.
Superior Court Judge Barbara Scheper said James Mee should be allowed to argue to jurors that he suffered discrimination and a hostile work environment after arresting Gibson in Malibu in 2006.
Mee, who is Jewish, claims his Christian superior officers ordered him to remove Gibson's anti-Semitic remarks from a report and then ostracized him and blocked his chances for a promotion.
Attorneys for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department have denied any wrongdoing and written in court filings that the deputy was insubordinate at times after Gibson's arrest and subjected to the same discipline as others.
Mee was investigated as the potential source who leaked his initial report containing Gibson's anti-Semitic rant, but after a lengthy investigation prosecutors found no evidence that he provided the details to celebrity website TMZ.
Scheper noted that Mee remains a deputy, although he no longer patrols for drunken drivers in the coastal community of Malibu. She dismissed his allegation Thursday that he was retaliated against and questioned whether he would be able to recoup any damages at trial.
While Mee complained to others in the department that Gibson's arrest was mishandled, it didn't appear he ever cited his religion as a cause for discrimination, the judge said.
"While I think it's thin, I think there are enough facts to create a question for the jury to decide," Scheper said during a hearing in which Los Angeles County attorneys tried to dismiss the case.
Mee's attorney Yael Trock said she was pleased the case is going to trial, although her client is still open to reaching a settlement. She said she did not yet know whether Gibson, who is not a party to the lawsuit, will be called as a witness.
"Mel Gibson is not the issue here," Trock said. "The issue is that the department mistreated Deputy Mee, who dared to arrest Mel Gibson and treated him like any other person."
Gibson's arrest and the revelation of his anti-Semitic rant in Mee's patrol car damaged the Oscar-winning director's reputation for years. He apologized for his conduct and his conviction was expunged in 2009 after he completed all the terms of his sentence.
A trial on Mee's allegations is scheduled to begin on Feb. 14.
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