This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Three former or current Salt Lake City police officers filed a lawsuit against the department and former Chief Chris Burbank on Friday, repeating the sexual harassment allegations that led to Burbank's departure earlier this year.
Burbank is not accused of the harassment. Instead, the lawsuit accuses him of failing to take action against a deputy police chief, Rick Findlay, who the women say stole or claimed to have nude or suggestive photos of the them. The lawsuit describes Findlay, who was the plaintiffs' superior, also attempting to kiss one of the officers and accuses him of withholding promotions.
"As the three officers at the heart of this case, we want the public to know that we won't sit idly by and allow ourselves to be harassed by a superior officer and subsequently mistreated by our employer," a statement from the officers reads. "… Our case is proof that, despite it being 2015, sexual harassment is alive and well, and so is the system that provides more protections to perpetrators than victims. This seems to be particularly true in professions that are generally male-dominated."
The lawsuit, filed Friday in state court in Salt Lake City, had been expected. The plaintiffs Sgt. Robin Heiden, Lt. Melody Gray and Officer Tiffany Commagere had earlier filed a notice with Salt Lake City stating their claims.
Among them, the women allege that Findlay showed the photos of them to coworkers. He also allegedly claimed to be in a relationship with Heiden, which she rebuffed, and allegedly tried to kiss Gray which was also rebuffed.
Gray, who was with the department for 18 years, resigned in August 2012 after Findlay began a disciplinary proceeding against her for an unrelated matter, and recommended her termination "based on false or misleading information," according to the lawsuit.
The three women "suffered damage to [their reputations] with past and present coworkers from Findlay's sexually discriminating and harassing conduct," the lawsuit reads. "His behavior created a hostile, intimidating, and offensive work environment and damaged [their] ability to advance in the department."
Findlay was put on leave in November 2013 as an internal investigation began. But when Burbank received the results later that year, he failed to act on them, according to the lawsuit. Findlay eventually retired in June 2014. At the time, a spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker told The Tribune that Burbank had discretion to handle the Findlay matter.
In a separate news conference of his own the day he left the department, Burbank defended his actions in putting Findlay on paid leave for several months until he retired. He said that under the state retirement system, Findlay would have received full benefits if he had been demoted.
"I made a decision that I thought best for the organization, based on he was no longer in the workplace," Burbank said at the news conference. "I wanted him out of the workplace, which was very important to me because it was a circumstance that I would not tolerate."
Heiden, Gray and Commagere, in their statement Friday, felt that "no one was going to stand up for them," prompting them to pursue the lawsuit.
"As mothers, peace officers and members of this community, we do not want our children, colleagues and friends to just accept that they may be victimized because of their gender, that they should ignore this treatment for the sake of an organization, or that they should ever fear reprisal," their statement reads. "Nor do we want anyone to think that they can treat women or men with disrespect, simply because it is tacitly accepted at all levels."
That's ultimately why they came forward, the statement adds, "despite the likelihood that we would be criticized, ostracized, retaliated against, berated, or otherwise demeaned."
The women are seeking an unspecified amount of damages and a jury trial.
Nichol Bourdeaux, deputy chief of staff for Salt Lake City, declined to comment on pending litigation.