A Lucas County Court of Common Pleas jury recently found several Oregon City officials retaliated against a female police sergeant for her testimony in a previous sexual discrimination lawsuit filed by a female police officer against the city.
The jury awarded Oregon Police Sgt. Kelly Thibert $25,000 in damages.
In addition, the city paid Thibert $85,000 in legal fees.
Thibert’s lawsuit, filed in 2008, accused the Oregon police department, ex-Mayor Marge Brown, and Police Chief Richard Stager of alleged sex discrimination and retaliation after she testified on behalf of former Oregon police officer Candace Elliott, who had filed a lawsuit against the city for sexual discrimination in 2004.
While the jury agreed that Thibert was retaliated against, it did not find Brown and Stager's conduct can be considered sexual discrimination.
Thibert, who has been an Oregon police officer since March, 1993, had alleged that Stager and Brown “acted with reckless disregard” for her rights. “These actions were motivated by Sgt. Thibert’s sex, her participation in prior proceedings concerning allegations of discrimination, and her good-faith reports of discriminatory conduct,” stated the lawsuit.
Thibert alleged that Brown began urging command officers in the police department to treat Thibert’s participation in the investigation and depositions “as disloyalty” to the department, and “to terminate or otherwise force her to leave” the department.
The lawsuit claimed officials retaliated against Thibert in various ways, including excluding her from command staff meetings in the police department.
Thibert has been a sergeant in the department since December, 2002. She was a Special Projects Sergeant until December 21, 2007, when she was transferred to a less favorable assignment on road patrol, which affected her childcare arrangements, and curtailed the time she could spend with her son, according to the lawsuit. Such a transfer was inconsistent with the department’s practice and policy relating to transfers of assignments, claimed Thibert, who sought reinstatement to her assignment as Special Projects Sergeant, compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $25,000, and legal costs.
Elliott had received a settlement of $183,000 from the city, and was reinstated as a part-time officer in the department. She no longer works as an Oregon officer.
Oregon City Law Director Paul Goldberg played down the jury verdict, saying there was no finding for sexual discrimination.
“Prior to the trial, the city filed a motion for summary judgment, and the judge dismissed sex discrimination allegations, so the whole case had to do with retaliation,” said Goldberg.
He also said the jury awarded Thibert only $25,000 in damages.
“We’re disappointed the jury found that there was retaliation, because we felt the city treated her fairly, but in light of what she was asking for, she got substantially less,” said Goldberg.
Thibert, reached at home, said she feels vindicated by the jury. “It was never about money,” she said. “There were no financial losses, no lost wages. It was mostly about getting the city to stop retaliating against me. It has stopped, and now it’s time to move on.”
Mayor Mike Seferian agreed.
“This is all in the past,” said Seferian. “I’m glad that it’s over.”
He said he and City Administrator Mike Beasley have met with Thibert, and asked her to contact them if she has any problems in the future.
“Of course, that’s something Mike and I inherited. We hope to believe that those are the type of things we can avoid happening in the future,” said Seferian.