A lawsuit that initially alleged a “culture of sexual activity” at the Gilroy Police Department petered into a wrongful firing claim that the city paid $25,000 to settle.
The deal includes a full dismissal of the lawsuit filed in 2017 by Patricia Harrell, according to the city’s press release. Furthermore, the city agreed to allow her to change her employment status to “resignation” instead of “termination.”
Harrell was fired as a public safety dispatcher in March 2016, according to court documents. She filed a lawsuit against the city, police department and numerous former and current employees—as well as her union, AFSCME—in November 2017.
Originally, Harrel accused officers of having sexually charged conversations at work, engaging in sexual activist with teens and young adult members of the Gilroy Explorers and watching porn in front of colleagues. She denied the department’s assertion that it fired her for misconduct involving trainees.
Gilroy police Chief Scot Smithee on Wednesday applauded the settlement.
“The [GPD] is an outstanding organization that I am proud to lead,” he said. “We hold ourselves to very high standards and did so in the case of Ms. Harrell’s termination. I am pleased to put this behind us so we can focus solely on service to the community.”
Harrell’s attorney, Andrea Justo, said her client is also pleased with the outcome. “Ms. Harrell is finally able to have some closure and move on with her life,” Justo said. “She has suffered greatly, not only from personal attacks during her employment but after this lawsuit was filed. As part of the settlement, the city has agreed to accept our client’s resignation in lieu of the proverbial scarlet designation of having been terminated.”
While Harrell’s initial lawsuit contained many lurid claims of a culture of sexual activity and harassment within the police department, she amended her complaint multiple times as the defendants’ attorneys moved to dismiss many of her charges in federal court.
The city’s press release earlier this week struck a victorious tone in describing how the number of claims and defendants diminished as the case wound its way through court. “Through a series of motions filed by the city and also AFSCME, the city prevailed in significantly narrowing the scope of Ms. Harrell’s case,” the city crowed.
As of this week, Harrell’s complaint included a total of six causes of action, and the only defendants in the lawsuit were the city and its police department. None of the remaining allegations had anything to do with sexual activity or harassment.
The settlement occurred as the case was proceeding through the discovery, or evidence-sharing, phase. It also followed a failed attempt to mediate the lawsuit earlier this year.
“Although the city has maintained all along that Ms. Harrell’s case had no merit and felt strongly as discovery progressed that the evidence did not support her remaining claims, it decided to settle the case at this juncture on terms it viewed as exceedingly favorable to the city when weighed against the cost of continuing litigation of the case,” reads the city’s press release.
Mayor Roland Velasco added: “Our police department works very hard to protect and serve all people who live and work in Gilroy in a professional and ethical manner. I am confident that the department will continue to serve with professionalism and integrity.”
Justo, however, said the lawsuit and settlement were successful in holding the city and police department accountable.
“We believe this contentious lawsuit demonstrates that no organization is above the law; police departments and public entities are not immune from unlawful discrimination, harassment and retaliation,” she said.
Harrell’s six remaining causes of action against the city and police department, which were dismissed by the settlement, were: age discrimination, gender discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination and harassment, failure to investigate or take corrective action, retaliation and Title VII retaliation.
Harrell, who is in her 50s, was fired from her job as a Gilroy police and fire dispatcher following an internal investigation into a complaint that she made racially insensitive remarks to a colleague and mistreated trainees, according to documents filed in court in relation to the lawsuit.