The first woman in history to serve as a Wyoming Highway Patrol K-9 handler is suing the law enforcement agency, alleging she was retaliated against and lost her position as a result of gender discrimination.
The suit alleges Delsa B. Sanderson was harassed by male troopers while stationed in Laramie. An internal rumor accused Sanderson of having a sexual relationship with a supervisor in exchange for a new car, the suit alleges. She was also the recipient of a sexually explicit nickname, according to the suit.
After Sanderson was promoted in 2015 to a Cheyenne-based dog-handler position, she was required to purchase her own holster and given an ill-fitting windbreaker, the suit alleges. A male trooper who was also sent to Cheyenne around the same time did not have to purchase his holster and was given a properly-fitting windbreaker. Other troopers in Cheyenne would ignore Sanderson or decline to acknowledge her, the suit alleges.
Highway patrol spokesman Sgt. Kyle McKay declined to comment in relation to the lawsuit, citing a highway patrol policy that forbids comment on ongoing litigation.
Assistant Wyoming Attorney General Philip Donoho, who is representing the highway patrol in the case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sanderson joined the patrol in December 2007 and is one of only six women among the 220 officers employed by the highway patrol, the suit states. She was nominated for Trooper of the Year in 2014 and received a Colonel's Commendation Award.
Patrol officails encouraged Sanderson to apply for bomb dog handler position in a division tasked with protecting the governor and other state officials. She began work there in May 2015 and was ignored and isolated by coworkers, the suit alleges.
While bantering with another trooper in February 2016, she called him an "asshole," according to the suit, which further contents such interactions are common in law enforcement.
Colonel Kebin Haller — the head of the patrol— told Sanderson the comment was unprofessional and told her to apologize to the other trooper, according to the suit. She did.
Roughly two months after the incident, supervisors issued her a letter outlining expectations, according to the suit. She was given a letter reassigning her on the same day.
The letters, which the lawsuit characterizes as "nearly identical," cite the name-calling incident as the most recent allegation of misconduct at the time of her reassignment, the lawsuit alleges.
None of Sanderson's alleged misconduct was recorded in a complaint-monitoring system until after she told supervisors the alleged misconduct did not appear in the system. The alleged misconduct was then added to the system, according to the suit.
The suit alleges Sanderson was reassigned because she complained about poor treatment by her colleagues, rather than for the reasons stated by her supervisors. It also alleges she was subject to a hostile work environment and discriminated against because of her gender.
Sanderson filed the suit Jan. 22, naming the law enforcement agency as the only defendant.
Bruce Moats, who represents Sanderson in the case, said he had no further comment on the case when reached by phone.
"(I'll) just stick with the complaint," he said.
Moats has previously represented the Star-Tribune in cases related to open records laws.
Sanderson is asking a judge to award her pay lost as a result of her demotion and additional monetary damages and order the highway patrol to cover her attorney's fees.