Two of the three female police officers who settled a discrimination lawsuit a year ago against the city of Billings have filed a human rights complaint alleging that the city hasn’t held up its end of the deal.
Another officer is also alleging discrimination because he is married to one of the female officers.
In an October complaint filed with the state Human Rights Bureau, detectives Sandra Leonard and Gaye Gauthier claim that they’ve been supervised and treated differently from other detectives, and that the city was keeping separate personnel files on them that weren’t kept for other officers. Officer Terrence Gauthier, who is married to Gaye Gauthier, also makes similar claims.
The eight-page complaint states that the officers have been subjected to an ongoing hostile work environment, even after the lawsuit settlement in late-2008. In that settlement, the city agreed to transfer Leonard and Gauthier to the detectives division and to order an independent review of the department’s policies.
The city also agreed to pay attorney’s fees and a total of $135,000 to the two officers, plus officer Rebecca Hagen, who has since retired. The three officers filed separate but similar human rights complaints in 2005 alleging gender discrimination. The City Council approved the settlement in December 2008.
While Leonard and Gauthier were transferred to the detective division, their working conditions didn’t improve much, the complaint states. They allege that Chief Rich St. John held closed-door meetings about them with other detectives, but that the women weren’t allowed to attend. They also claim that they were “subject to a type of surveillance by the chief of police to which others are not subject.”
“St. John has stated that Leonard and Gauthier ‘don’t count’ as detectives or words to that effect,” the complaint says.
The complaint also alleges that St. John has segregated Leonard and the Gauthiers along with other officers who have a history of legal action against the department, including officers Terry Bechtold and Steve Feuerstein. Bechtold is preparing for a federal discrimination trial against the city because he claims he faced retaliation after testifying in the Feuerstein discrimination lawsuit a few years ago. That lawsuit ended with a $1.3 million judgment against the city.
The officers would like to see the separate files kept on them by St. John, but they’ve been rebuffed in their efforts, according to the complaint. The officers claim that the city won’t turn over the records unless the officers waive some of their rights.
The attorney for the three officers, Tim Kelly of Emigrant, couldn’t be reached for comment. During a closed-door, quarterly litigation update on Dec. 7, City Attorney Brent Brooks briefed the City Council on the complaint. St. John said that his department has made major strides in recent years.
“Absolutely, unequivocally untrue,” St. John said of the allegations in the complaint. “Suffice to say, I am very dis-appointed and we will vigorously defend against the allegations.”
The complaint will be investigated by the state Department of Labor, which will issue its finding at a later date.