Kimberly Martin was awarded officer of the year in 2002 and Michelle Cota received the award in 2004, but now both women have filed lawsuits alleging sexual harassment against the Arroyo Grande Police Department. The San Luis Obispo New Times reported on January 4, 2012, that Martin has been with the department since 1998 while Cota has been there since 2003. Martin filed her suit in September 2010 while Cota filed in December 2011.
According to the New Times, four months before Steve Annibali took over as police chief, both women complained of “unspecified sexual harassment by a male colleague.” The colleague was allegedly offered a full retirement in lieu of disciplinary action following an investigation into the complaints. The New Times reported that both officers claim they were “chastised” by Mayor Tony Ferrera, then “ostracized” by fellow employees at a mandatory department meeting administered by the mayor.
The New Times also said the complaints allege that Annibali instituted a new grooming and dress code that was only enforced on females, the female officers became the subjects of jokes and “snide comments” during inspections pertaining to that dress code and they became the targets of retaliatory action by the chief and command staff including being assigned undesirable shifts, denied opportunities for overtime, overloaded with service calls while male officers were allowed to remain at the station and denied watch command coverage, undercover and detective training.
Unlike quid pro quo sexual harassment, the types of harassment alleged here constitute a “hostile working” environment that is just as illegal. The two women in this case appear to have complained to supervisors before filing their lawsuits, but an employer can be held accountable for this type of harassment whether or not they were aware it was occurring.
Law Offices of Kesluk, Silverstein & Jacob – Los Angeles employment lawyers