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Three women all former or current Salt Lake City police officers have settled a sexual-harassment lawsuit brought against the city's police department and its former chief, who resigned earlier this year amid allegations he mishandled harassment cases.
The lawsuit was dismissed by 3rd District Court on Wednesday afternoon, Ed Brass, the attorney representing the women, said.
Under the terms of the settlement, each woman will receive $85,000.
In addition, the police department with input from the three women has been reworking its policies for handling sexual-harassment claims, Brass said.
The department has also agreed to beef up its recruitment of female officers, whose numbers have declined in recent years, he said.
The department will also hold two training sessions: one with the city human resources department, and a second, more in-depth training with an outside expert, said interim Police Chief Mike Brown. From now on, if a sexual-harassment complaint arises, the police department will consult with city HR staff and attorneys about what "fair and consistent and equitable discipline that should be handed out."
Officers will also have someone within the police department whom they can talk to about sexual-harassment concerns.
The terms attempt to "change the culture at the police department, the hiring practices, the training," as opposed to changes to the city's sexual- harassment policies, said Mayor Ralph Becker in a telephone interview. I'm really pleased that [Brown] has aggressively moved forward with a series of actions that we know will make a big difference."
The changes began after the female officers' allegations were confirmed, Becker said.
Brass credited Brown and the city's attorney and human resources office for working diligently to the issues raised by the women without going through a protracted and contentious legal battle. Brass also said the resignation of former police Chief Chris Burbank, after pressure from the Mayor's office, was a critical factor in reaching a resolution and was accompanied by a change in attitude about the validity of the officers' claims.
"Things have changed dramatically," said Brass. "At some point in time, there was a change of course and people began to listen to what we had to say."
The three officers Sgt. Robin Heiden, Lt. Melody Gray and Officer Tiffany Commagere did not plan to issue a statement, Brass said.
"They didn't ever want to go public, but it's going public that eventually led to these changes," he said "They just want to be cops. They just want to be judged on their own merits."
Filed in September, the lawsuit alleged the women were subjected to harassment by former deputy chief in charge of Internal Affairs, Rick Findlay, which was followed by retaliation when the women took their concerns to police department administrators.
The suit also claimed then-chief Chris Burbank failed to take appropriate disciplinary steps against Findlay.
Among the women's claims: Findlay stole or claimed to have nude or suggestive photographs of them and, over the course of about two years, showed them to co-workers. He also allegedly claimed to have had a relationship with Heiden, which she rebuffed, and tried to kiss Gray, who also rebuffed the advances.
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 women claimed Findlay damaged their professional reputations with co-workers and created a "hostile, intimidating and offensive work environment and damaged [their] ability to advance in the department."
Findlay was placed on leave November 2013 amid an internal investigation. Burbank, however, failed to act on the investigation's early findings, the lawsuit said. Findlay was placed on paid leave for several months and then retired in June 2014.
As allegations surfaced that he had mishandled the three female officers' complaints a situation Becker had said a year earlier the chief had discretion to handle Burbank resigned rather than read an apology Becker ordered. Becker is running for re-election in November against challenger Jackie Biskupski.
Burbank has defended his actions with Findlay, saying that under the rules of the state retirement system, Findlay would have received full benefits even if he had been demoted.