City denies culture of sexual harassment

Edmonds police chief, HR director respond to public concerns
By Brian Soergel | Apr 20, 2017
Courtesy of: Edmonds PD

Despite settling a recent sexual harassment lawsuit with a large sum of money, and hearing from two citizens concerned about an alleged culture of harassment and discrimination toward women at the Edmonds Police Department, the city is denying that any such situation exists.

“I am not aware that there is any ‘culture’ of harassment or discrimination in any department at the city,” HR Director Mary Ann Hardie said at a City Council meeting April 11. “This simply would not be acceptable or tolerated.”

Police Chief Al Compaan also commented on citizens’ allegations: “As to the concern that sexual harassment is allegedly endemic in the department, such a concern is not supported by the facts. Yes, the city recently settled a lawsuit brought by one of our employees, who cited allegations of sexual harassment.”

The city and its self-insurance pool, Washington Cities Insurance Authority (WCIA), agreed to a settlement of the case. The city did not admit liability as part of the settlement, and considers it to be a compromise of a disputed claim.

Both citizens who spoke before council – Denise Hotchkiss and Alison Starke – mentioned two pending lawsuits facing the city’s police department. Both suits, Compaan said, do not involve sexual harassment.

Indeed, one was a serious crime – former Officer Daniel Lavely was convicted of custodial sex with a woman he had detained from Andy’s Motel and driven to a spot behind Burlington Coat Factory in May 2012.

He resigned from the department and was sentenced to a year in prison. He filed an appeal in 2015 that the state Court of Appeals denied.

The woman in the case sued the city for $2 million; the suit has no trial date.

“That was really an unfortunate decision-making process on (Lavely’s) part, and I suppose it’s time he took some responsibility for his actions,” said Sharon Coates, an attorney for the city of Edmonds and an employee of the Lighthouse Group. “That was clear criminal behavior outside the pale.”

The other pending suit was brought forth by Anne Johnson, a police department civilian employee who alleges medical disability for being “scent sensitive,” said Mark Bucklin, the city of Edmonds’ longtime WCIA attorney. She claims the city did not honor her request and retaliated against her, which the city denies. Her suit is seeking $500,000.

Bucklin agrees with the city’s denial of a culture of sexual harassment, saying that in his 33 years with Edmonds, he has only been able to find one other female officer who filed a sexual harassment complaint.

That complaint, filed by police Officer Ronda Rohde in 2001, went to trial. The city won the case.

“It was a bizarre set of facts,” Bucklin said. “She was romantically involved with another police officer. They were sexually involved. They had a child together. They had a falling out, and she thought the department wasn’t supporting her in her claims of wrongdoing against the father’s child.”

The officer who fathered Rohde’s baby, and who she said abused her – which he denied – is a current member of the Edmonds Police Department.

The Sackville complaint

It was on Feb. 28 that the city of Edmonds, behind closed doors in legal executive session, approved a settlement concerning Jodi Sackville, a police officer who filed a $500,000 claim in 2013 alleging sexual harassment from two members of the Edmonds Police Department – Sgt. David Machado and Cpl. Aaron Greenmun.

The decision was made in private, but the city quickly issued a news release about the City Council-approved settlement, saying it agreed to pay Sackville $235,000. The Edmonds Beacon published a story based on the release on March 2.

Hardie confirmed to The Beacon that WCIA paid $135,000 of the settlement. The city footed the remaining $100,000, money that came from taxpayers.

Public court records concerning Sackville’s complaint against the city show that one of the conditions of the settlement stipulated that Sackville would agree to resign from the police department, which she has done.

Although not mentioned in court papers, the two officers named in Sackville’s suit, Machado and Greenmun, remain in the department.

Summary judgment attempt

In November, the defendants had asked for summary judgment, meaning a decision would be made based on available evidence and that a trial would not be held. The judge denied it.

In the settlement agreement, the plaintiff and defendants agreed to no contact with the media to discuss the case. The parties agreed that the settlement was a compromise of a disputed claim, and that payment is not be construed as an admission of liability by either Sackville or the defendants.

“It is my understanding from Ms. Sackville’s complaint for damages filed in this case that she alleged she was discriminated against due to her sexual identification as a lesbian and due to her being female,” Bucklin said.

“These allegations are and remain strongly denied by the city and defendant officers as stated in their respective answer of defendants to the plaintiff’s complaint filed in this matter.”

The earlier incident

Sackville’s claim for damages had its genesis in 2011, when she filed a complaint to Chief Compaan against Machado. She claimed that the sergeant placed his face close to hers while whispering to her, making brief contact with her ear.

An independent investigation, conducted by attorney Jim Webber, determined that Machado engaged in the following “inappropriate actions”: standing inappropriately close to other people (including women) when talking to them at work; using “up and down looks” during inspections; asking about Sackville’s personal life to determine her sexual orientation; and repeatedly reminding Sackville of her status as a probationary patrol officer.

In November 2011, based on Webber’s findings and the testimony of other department members about Machado’s “confrontational management style” and “well-documented deficient behavior,” Compaan demoted the sergeant, who had been with the department since 1990, to officer.

“The demotion imposed by the chief was not based on a finding of sexual harassment,” Bucklin said. “It was based on inappropriate conduct by a sergeant and failure to perform some of his sergeant duties. There were a lot of different causes. The interaction with Sackville was one incident, the alleged ear-kissing incident.”

Machado agreed to the demotion, but filed a grievance as outlined in the department’s collective bargaining agreement.

In September 2013, arbitrator John W. Tapp sustained Machado’s claim, a victory for the Edmonds Police Officers Association against the city of Edmonds. Tapp said the city did not prove its charges and establish just cause for the sergeant’s demotion. Machado was awarded his previous status.

A year later, Sackville filed another complaint against Machado, alleging inappropriate contact during a combat medic-training scenario. Compaan agreed with the investigator in the complaint, Assistant Chief Jim Lawless, that there was no violation of departmental policy.

Other claims

In addition to her claims against the sergeant, in 2011 Sackville filed complaints against Greenmun, one of the defendants in the recent settlement. She claimed he made disparaging comments about her sexuality.

According to a discipline notice dated April 12, 2012, Compaan wrote that an investigator determined that Greenmun – now in the police department’s training unit and formerly a school resource officer – admitted to “most of the comments by which Officer Sackville states she was offended.”

However, Greenmun said he has friends and a relative who are gay and that he was “just joking.”

There were three sustained findings against Greenmun, which meant a total of 24 hours suspension without pay, to be deferred if no further complaints were made against him and he attended a workplace harassment and discrimination course.

Settlement

Because Machado won his grievance against Sackville in 2013, Bucklin said “a double jeopardy sort of applies. You don’t get a second bite of the apple; he was disciplined for the conduct. Unless there’s new conduct involved, you can’t go back and discipline somebody.”

Regardless, the city is making sure the public knows that it will not tolerate any form of sexual harassment.

“It is important to point out that of the 64 current employees in the police department, 18 are women,” Compaan said at the council meeting last week. “Of the 18, eight have served our city for over a decade. Of the 18, eight are commissioned police officers. … Litigation is a reality of our society. One of the best deflectors of litigation is risk management – having strong workplace policies, having regular training on workplace conduct, having strong accountability and, when needed, a robust investigative and disciplinary process.

“We have these things in place, and we work closely with our human resources director and city attorney to follow both the spirit and letter of the law.”

HR Director Hardie said that, “As a matter of standard practice, the city provides regular anti-harassment, anti-retaliation and cultural diversity training for employees, including refresher trainings. Newly hired employees also have anti-harassment, anti-retaliation and cultural diversity training at the time of hire in between citywide refresher trainings.

“The city values employees and strives to maintain a pleasant and productive work environment, and this includes being appropriately and promptly responsive to complaints of discrimination or harassment.

“The city does not tolerate illegal behavior such as discrimination or harassment and this behavior, by policy, is clearly subject to appropriate disciplinary, corrective action up to and including termination.”

 

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