Atascadero male police officers claim discrimination
November 9, 2008
By KAREN VELIE
A contentious reverse discrimination claim that has embroiled the Atascadero Police Department in controversy heads for mediation Tuesday.
Earlier this year, city officials launched an internal probe into complaints of reverse discrimination made by male officers against female officers in the city’s police department. The complaints allege preferential treatment for an alleged lesbian officer, provided by an upper level officer with whom she was romantically involved, sources said.
A half dozen sources have confirmed the allegations. City officials and attorneys involved in the case have declined comment.
Following the investigation, Police Chief Jim Mulhall ordered one of the alleged lesbian officers to resign from the force. Neither officer agreed to step down. Approximately 90 days ago, officials placed Lt. Carole Robinson and Sgt. Tiffany Ayles on paid administrative leave.
“I can’t discuss personnel issues,” Mulhall said, adding that the officers involved also would not be discussing the issue.
Robinson’s attorney, Jeff Stulberg, declined comment, as did Clayton Hall, an attorney hired by the Joint Powers Agency to defend the city.
Supporters of Robinson and Ayles have accused the officers who filed the complaint of spinning the truth and disseminating false information in retaliation against the women.
Robinson, with nearly 20 years on the department and its longest-serving employee, is second in command under Police Chief Jim Mulhall. A recipient of the chief’s medal of honor, Robinson had maintained an unblemished record. Until now.
Approximately 10 years ago, Robinson and Ayles began dating. Shortly afterward, the pair moved in together and co-purchased a home.
Complainants allege that Ayles, a patrol officer, was promoted to sergeant ahead of officers equally qualified and with more time on the force because of her relationship with Robinson.
According to one supporter of the pair, Robinson refused to influence the promotion decision because of her relationship with Ayles. In addition, Robinson, primarily an investigator, generally had no supervisory control over Ayles.
But because of a personnel shortage in the department, Robinson was placed in a supervisory position over Ayles for four to five months.
A few years ago, the pair was said to have entered into a civil union while on vacation in Hawaii. That would have violated city personnel regulations. Robinson and Ayles are not registered as domestic partners, and deny entering into a civil union.
“There would be outrage if I tried to promote my wife ahead of others,” one man said. “They’re the same as any married couple.”
Nepotism and cronyism can be the basis for a successful Title VII lawsuit if the practice includes unlawful discrimination. Though the courts generally support regulations that prohibit married, heterosexual spouses from working in the same department, there are cases where couples have prevailed.
Former Atascadero Police Chief John Couch investigated the allegations and put the matter to rest, temporarily, in 2005.
“He asked her [Robinson] if she was in a marriage-like relationship, and she said, ‘No,'” a source noted. Couch did not inquire further into the pair’s relationship.
Critics of the couple claim Robinson and Ayles were not truthful about their relationship which could damage the women’s credibility in the courtroom.
“Morale is at an all time low,” a source said. “People want to leave. It’s gone over the edge.”
Questions remain on the eventual financial toll this conflict will cost city taxpayers for paid administrative leave, overtime pay for officers, legal fees for city attorneys Clayton Hall and Kelly Trainer, and Ayles’ counsel, Louis Silver.