MDHR Cases

Case File: Reprisal

Police chief's retaliation against a female police officer for filing a sexual harassment claim resulted in a $60,000 settlement.

The police officer, who we'll call Lauren, alleged that the chief touched her inappropriately, including putting his arms around her and rubbing his body against hers in a sexual manner. He also allegedly made a reference to her breasts, and inquired about her private life. She filed a formal complaint with the city administrator.

Some time later, she was told an investigation had been completed, and that her supervisor had been given two days' unpaid suspension and a written reprimand. However, she would eventually learn that he had in fact received his two days' pay, and the reprimand had been removed from his file.

Then came the alleged relation. Suddenly she was denied training opportunities, overtime pay, holiday pay, and reimbursement for mileage — benefits that were available to other officers in the department. In her next performance review, there were accusations of lateness and other scheduling issues — concerns her supervisor, the police chief, had never mentioned prior to the review.

In investigating the charge Lauren filed with the Department of Human Rights, the Department found some evidence to indicate the use of double entendre humor. But it could not substantiate her other claims, and there was not enough evidence to show that the jokes were significantly intimidating, hostile or offensive, as to interfere with the charging party's employment. "Not all conduct reasonable people consider offensive amounts to illegal discrimination," the Department noted.

But the Department did find sufficient evidence to show that Lauren had experienced a series of adverse employment actions as a result of her charge of sexual harassment. These policies negatively impacted her employment. The city's stated reasons for these adverse employment actions were "pretextually false," the Department determined.

In a settlement negotiated with the Department of Human Rights, the city agreed to provide its employees with training on the Minnesota Human Rights Act's prohibition on gender discrimination and on reprisal and retaliation, in addition to a $60,000 payment to Lauren and her attorney. The respondents deny that they violated the Act, and the settlement does not constitute an admission of any wrongdoing.

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