Arroyo Grande police officer alleges sexual harassment
December 20, 2011
By KAREN VELIE
Contentious claims of a culture of sexual discrimination and harassment have resulted in the first of three proposed lawsuits against the city of Arroyo Grande, its police department and Chief Steve Annibali winding its way through the system.
Arroyo Grande police officer Kimberely Martin filed a lawsuit in September 2010 detailing many allegations of sexual discrimination and harassment that have allegedly occurred since Annibali was hired in 2007.
Problems began, according to the lawsuit, when Martin and two other female officers reported to their superiors in May 2007 that officer Barry Bridge was sexually harassing them. The women said Bridge would make offensive and demeaning remarks to them.
And while Annibali offered Bridge a full retirement with no disciplinary actions, city officials admonished the women for making the allegations, the lawsuit says.
At a mandatory department meeting, Mayor Tony Ferrara chastised the women for making allegations of sexual harassment he suspected were “possibly a misunderstanding and would be cleared up soon,” the lawsuit says. The three female officers asked Annibali to discuss the “mayor’s misguided comments, which he refused to do.”
State laws prohibit mayors and council members from giving direction to staff aside from the city attorney and city manager.
Annibali did not return several requests for comment.
The complaint also alleges Annibali promoted male officers ahead of female officers with equal or more qualifications. In addition, Martin’s claims of sexual discrimination include allegations of preferential treatment to male officers which include the freedom to strip down to their T-shirts at the shooting range while the women are required to wear their uniform tops and vests, and regular grooming checks required for female officers.
The city filed a response to the allegations in October 2010 arguing that Martin had “failed to list facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action against the answering defendants.”
Sources tell CalCoastNews that this is the first of three proposed lawsuits by officers alleging sexual discrimination as well as harassment of male supervisors unwilling to treat female subordinates differently than their male counterparts.
Martin, with more than 13 years with the department, was awarded the reserve officer of the year award in 2000 and the police officer of the year award in 2002.
A post mediation status conference is scheduled for April 1, 2012.