Oregon Police Sgt. Kelly Thibert’s lawsuit against the city, the police division, Mayor Marge Brown, and Police Chief Richard Stager last week is the third discrimination case against the city in the last several years.
Virginia Todd sued the city in the early 1990s after she was passed over for a promotion for lieutenant, despite earning the highest score on the promotional exam. A male officer, instead, was promoted to lieutenant. Todd eventually was promoted to lieutenant after a court ruled in her favor.
In 2003, Oregon police officer Candace Elliott, was terminated during her probationary period for alleged performance-related reasons, though her male peers, who supposedly had performance problems were not terminated. Elliot filed a lawsuit, alleging sex discrimination. Elliott had claimed in the lawsuit that one of her training officers, Patrolman Jeff Brown, Mayor Brown’s son, criticized Elliott’s performance after she refused his alleged sexual advances. The city settled with Elliott for $183,000.
Sgt. Thibert claims in her lawsuit that she has been the subject of discrimination and retaliation after testifying about a sexually hostile work environment in the Candace Elliott case.
The lawsuit states that Mayor Marge Brown began urging command officers to consider Sgt. Thibert as disloyal to the division, and to “terminate or otherwise force her to leave the division.”
In the fall of 2007, former Police Chief Tom Gulch received complaints – one anonymous and the other signed by representatives of the police officers’ union, including patrolman Jeff Brown, the mayor’s son.
The complaints listed incidents of alleged misconduct, primarily by Sgt. Thibert, Lt. Hank Everitt, and Lt. Brian Andrzejewski, according to the lawsuit.
“Sgt. Thibert’s conduct was made a subject of these complaints in an effort to drive her out of the division because of her gender, her prior complaints of a hostile work environment, and in retaliation for her cooperation in the Candace Elliott case,” states the lawsuit.
Sgt. Thibert was alleged, in the complaint, to have exposed her breasts in public at a rock concert several years prior, while off-duty, although no witness was ever identified who would be able to confirm that this occurred, states the lawsuit.
“Other officers who attended the concert verified that no such incident occurred,” states the lawsuit.
Sgt. Thibert was also alleged to have posed for inappropriate photographs for a motorcycle themed calendar that reflected poorly on the division, though Thibert posed fully clothed, and not in department uniform, and only after specifically requesting permission to do so, states the lawsuit.
In Oct., 2007, “Mayor Brown demanded Chief Gulch’s resignation, and cited Gulch’s unwillingness to discipline or terminate Sgt. Thibert as a reason for her demand. Gulch declined to resign and was instead placed on probation,” states the lawsuit.
“Upon investigating the allegations in the anonymous complaint and the union complaint, Gulch concluded that Sgt. Thibert was not guilty of any significant violation of division guidelines…,” stated the lawsuit.
“Chief Gulch concluded that some of those responsible for bringing these incidents to his attention, including Patrolman Jeff Brown, were themselves guilty of misconduct for spreading rumors about fellow officers,” states the lawsuit.
Gulch was replaced by Stager earlier this year.
Fred Gittes, Thibert’s lawyer, said the city has a long history of allegations of sexual discrimination and retaliation. The city has never had more than four sworn female police officers working at one time. Currently, the city only has three on staff, said Gittes, who also represented Elliott.
Gulch could not be reached for comment.
Oregon City Law Director Paul Goldberg, who spoke on behalf of city officials named in the lawsuit, said the police department does not have a problem with sex discrimination
“I don’t think there’s any discrimination,” said Goldberg.
Though the city settled with Elliott for $183,000, “the city clearly admitted no liability at all in that case,” said Goldberg.
He said the case was settled “for a hundred reasons.”
“These are complex things. Most civil lawsuits are either dismissed or settled,” he said.
Goldberg said the city has never had more than four sworn female police officers at any one time because “we can only hire females if they get on the list.”
“The city doesn’t control who applies for the jobs. If not many females apply, that’s just the way it is,” he said.
“If Thibert had such a hard time, why was she promoted to sergeant? Some people think that if everything doesn’t go their way, it’s hostile towards them. There are many men that work there who think that everything doesn’t go their way, either,” said Goldberg.
He also disputes the allegation that Mayor Brown demanded Chief Gulch’s resignation for his unwillingness to discipline or terminate Sgt. Thibert.
“That was not the reason the mayor asked him to leave,” said Goldberg.
The city will mount a “vigorous defense” against the lawsuit, he said.
“That, I promise you.”