Written by Kelly Kaczala
Sunday, 12 October 2008 09:31
A female Oregon police sergeant has filed a lawsuit in the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas against the City of Oregon, the Oregon police department, Mayor Marge Brown, and Police Chief Richard Stager for alleged sex discrimination and retaliation for her deposition in a lawsuit filed by a female officer against the city for sex discrimination in 2004.
Kelly Thibert, who has been an Oregon police officer since March, 1993, alleges that Stager and Brown “acted with reckless disregard” for her rights, according to the lawsuit.
“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,” states the lawsuit.
Thibert has been a sergeant in the department since December, 2002. She was a Special Projects Sergeant until last December.
Fred Gittes, an attorney for Thibert, said his client has “been through hell” since she was deposed in February, 2004 in the sex discrimination case of former Oregon police officer Candace Elliot. Gittes was also the lawyer for Elliot.
“[Thibert] testified honestly about her own experience. When I subpoenaed her, she told the truth. And it’s been a living hell for her ever since,” said Gittes.
Mayor Brown, states the lawsuit, 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.
“These efforts to drive Sgt. Thibert out of the division have continued to the present,” states the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that Mayor Brown, at a public gathering at a prayer breakfast in or around May, 2006, referred to Sgt. Thibert and others who participated in the Elliot case as “nigger[s] in the woodpile” and “turncoats” because she suspected them of “passing information to Candace Elliot during her litigation.”
On Dec. 21, 2007, Thibert was transferred from her assignment as Special Projects Sergeant to a less favorable assignment on road patrol, which affected her childcare arrangements, and curtailed the time she could spend with her son, stated the lawsuit.
“Such a transfer is inconsistent with the department’s practice and policy relating to transfers of assignments,” states the lawsuit.
“There’s a clear double standard in the department,” said Gittes. “She’s being questioned, challenged, on every little thing every day. Some of this is petty, and some more significant. She’s being investigated, and sometimes punished, for things the chief knows that the males do, and even he has done. Like all the officers there, she puts herself at risk every day. The last thing any of them need – male or female – is to be questioned and harassed for no reason. It interferes with her ability to work. It goes from how she dresses, to talking to other officers. They’ve threatened to investigate her about conversations with other officers and she’s not invited to meetings where other command staff are.”
Gittes said Thibert thinks highly of her colleagues.
“The problem is at the top. Their behavior only encourages a small group of male officers who can’t work with women, and who can’t accept that women have an equal place in law enforcement. This is not directed at most of the department,” said Gittes.
Oregon’s Law Director Paul Goldberg said the lawsuit is without merit.
“It is easy for people to make claims and charges against the city and its officials. It’s another thing to actually prove them. I believe when all the evidence is heard, it will be very clear that Thibert cannot prove her case. Beyond that, the city will prove that she was not discriminated against and has been treated fairly and continues to be treated fairly,” said Goldberg.
Elliot had received a settlement of $183,000 from the city, and was reinstated as a part-time officer in the department. Gittes said Elliot no longer works in the department.
Thibert is seeking reinstatement to her assignment as Special Projects Sergeant, compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $25,000, and legal costs.
The case has been assigned to Judge Ruth Ann Franks.