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September 2, 2011
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Ex-Aspen cop gets $28,000 settlement

ASPEN - Rumors and reports of a seven-figure settlement in the Melinda Calvano lawsuit turned out to be grossly inaccurate.

Calvano, a former Aspen police officer who filed a lawsuit in July 2007 against city government and City Manager Steve Barwick alleging discrimination, settled the case for $28,000, according to documents the city released Thursday.

Calvano had sought nearly $460,000 in damages. The suit claimed gender bias, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. Because of the settlement, a trial that was to have started Friday with jury selection has been canceled.

Though the parties reached an oral agreement last week, the exact terms weren't made public until Thursday. City Attorney John Worcester said Aspen couldn't provide details of the settlement until it was completely finalized, with all the parties signing off on the agreement.

Barwick declined comment, noting that the settlement includes a confidentiality clause that requires all of the parties not to disclose any information except what the law requires, such as the amount due to Calvano and her legal team.

The agreement states that the settlement "does not constitute an admission by the city that it has violated any law or done anything wrong or illegal, and the city expressly denies that it has engaged in any such conduct."

Worcester said the $28,000 payment to Calvano is coming from the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, an insurer for municipalities throughout the state.

"The only cost to the city is the $10,000 we paid the insurance company in 2006 as part of our deductible," he said. "Every time someone sues us and CIRSA takes it on, we have to pay the first $10,000."

Calvano, an Aspen police officer from 2002 to 2006, claimed that the city retaliated against her when it fired her on July 27, 2006 - one month after she Tasered a homeless woman in the alley behind the Thrift Shop of Aspen.

The city argued that Calvano was treated fairly and it was her unnecessary Tasering of Carol Alexy that resulted in her termination. Calvano's attorney, Marc Colin of Denver, said in court filings that Calvano Tasered Alexy because she felt threatened by the woman, who was allegedly digging through a trash bin behind the store.

Arguments on both sides took a heated tone in past court filings in the lawsuit, as Colin attempted to show that the police was rife with misconduct, sexual harassment and a double-standard approach toward female employees.

Attorney Gary Doehling, representing the city of Aspen, argued in court papers that Colin was forcing the city to "have 'mini trials' based on hearsay allegations."

The Taser incident prompted the police department to craft a policy regulating stun-gun use one year after the thrift shop episode. It has been in effect ever since.

Calvano, now 37, later took a position with the Lone Tree Police Department on the Front Range. She is no longer employed there.

Last Friday, The Red Ant, a website and email political commentary operated by Elizabeth Milias, one of the most vocal critics of the city, reported that "sources close to the case [say] that the city has agreed to pay former Aspen police officer Melinda Calvano the full amount she sought plus all legal fees. ... The settlement deal, inked late Tuesday night, is estimated to be worth as much as $1 million."

Worcester declined comment in response to a question last week about the accuracy of the Red Ant report.

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Sep 2, 2011 07:06AM Published Sep 2, 2011 02:08AM Copyright 2011 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.