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October 16, 2018

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Demoted police sergeant sues Metro for $1 million

The complaint, filed Friday by attorney Richard Segerblom on behalf of Sgt. Debra Gauthier, names the Metropolitan Police Department, Sheriff Jerry Keller, Undersheriff Richard Winget, Deputy Chief Mike Zagorski and Sgt. Karen Hoye, chairwoman of the department's Diversity and Equality Board.

According to the lawsuit, the defendants violated Gauthier's right of free speech when they demoted her to sergeant and denied her a promotion to captain because of her support for Capt. Randy Oaks - and not Keller - in the 1994 sheriff's election.

The lawsuit also claims the defendants violated Gauthier's due process rights "by denying her a meaningful opportunity to be heard both before and after her demotion."

In addition, the complaint accuses the defendants of sex discrimination, and it further claims they retaliated against her because she complained about sex discrimination and sexual harassment by her supervisors, co-workers and subordinates.

Keller could not be reached for comment, but Winget briefly responded to the allegations.

"This case was investigated in great detail within the organization; it was reviewed in great detail by the Civil Service Board, and the actions taken by the department upheld," the undersheriff said. "I'm very confident that a judicial review will return exactly the same result."

Gauthier was demoted after Sgt. Chuck Jones, who worked for her, secretly tape-recorded a conversation the two had.

The recording convinced the department's diversity board that Gauthier had retaliated against Jones because he had filed internal complaints against her.

Gauthier appealed the demotion in December, claiming discrimination. After months of hearings, the Civil Service Board voted 4-1 in March to uphold her demotion.

Gauthier's lawsuit asks that she be promoted to captain and given back pay, with interest, for the money she lost as a result of her demotion.

It also seeks compensatory damages of $1 million, as well as $50,000 in punitive damages from each of the individuals named as defendants.