Lawsuit: City ignored misconduct in APD
October 30, 2007
ASPEN A former Aspen police officer has filed court documents alleging that the city manager ignored her claims of sexual harassment in the department and did nothing to correct it.Thats the latest allegation from Melinda Calvano, who was fired in July 2006 for violating the police departments use-of-force policy after she used a Taser on a homeless woman who Calvano said acted aggressively toward her.Calvano in August filed a lawsuit against Aspen and City Manager Steve Barwick claiming wrongful termination. She amended her complaint on Oct. 17, which includes claims of gender bias, a hostile work environment and sexual harassment while she was with the police department. The amended complaint came two weeks after Aspens risk-management agency placed Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson on administrative leave amid allegations of sexual harassment from police department ex-employees. This week marks nearly a month that Ryerson has been on administrative leave with pay.When Calvano filed a complaint with the citys human resources department in early 2006 alleging gender bias and sexual harassment, human resources director Rebecca Doane recommended to Barwick a list of actions for the APD to implement to prevent further complaints.Defendant Barwick ignored these recommendations and in his capacity as the final policy maker for the city of Aspen on employment matters, took steps to insure that few, if any of the human resources directors recommendations were implemented, the complaint reads. The Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency (CIRSA) the city of Aspens insurance and risk-management carrier is heading the investigation of Ryerson, which could be complete this week, Barwick said, adding that he will make an announcement regarding Ryersons employment once CIRSA delivers its findings.Barwick declined to comment on Calvanos amended complaint because its pending litigation.There have been claims of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment in the police department for years. But it wasnt until recently that those claims prompted city officials to investigate the allegations.The impetus for the probe apparently was borne out of a common theme in exit interviews from former police department employees, who were critical of Ryersons style and claimed sexual harassment.Calvano didnt have an exit interview because she was fired. But she had plenty to say in the recently filed amendment about her experiences in the APD and what happened after she filed a complaint with the citys human resources department.This complaint was referred to the Rocky Mountain Employers Council for investigation by the director of human resources, the complaint reads. Plaintiffs complaints [were that] that she was subjected to sexual harassment by male Aspen police officers who repeatedly gossiped about her personal life, subjected her to unwanted and inappropriate scrutiny regarding her personal off-duty activities, made inappropriate comments about her clothing and her body and made up and circulated stories about an alleged relationship with a supervisor at the agency ….Plaintiff first raised these concerns with the offending employees and thereafter with her chain of command of the Aspen Police Department, the complaint reads. Rather than correcting these behaviors, plaintiffs co-workers became vindictive toward her and in retaliation of her complaints began subjecting her to further harassment and an increasingly hostile working environment.Thats when Calvano took her complaints to the human resources department, which has the authority to investigate and act upon her complaints. As a result, Barwick received 11 recommendations to implement within the police department. Calvano claims that those policy recommendations were never implemented, based on her experience as an employee, as well as testimony from city officials in a name-clearing hearing in January, said Marc Colin, Calvanos Denver-based attorney. Human resources conducts these investigations for a reason and makes recommendations to bring agencies in compliance with state and federal laws, Colin said Monday. One has to question why the city manager would disregard the recommendations by the human resources director.Colin said the timing of the amendment is coincidental to the CIRSA investigation. By statute, the amendment had to be filed within 90 days of Calvanos filing a charge of discrimination, which the Colorado Civil Rights Division received July 19.The complaint alleges that Calvanos experiences show a pattern of city management ignoring an ongoing problem.Defendants have engaged in a repeated practice and custom of subjecting female employees, including the plaintiff, to disparate treatment due to their gender, sexually harassing female employees and acquiescing in such behaviors by supervisory employees despite being placed on formal notice the complaint reads. Thus, defendants have adopted a custom, practice and defacto policy of ignoring the sexual harassment of female employees by their male co-workers and supervisors and by retaliating against female employees who initiate complaints Ryerson issued a public statement two weeks ago denying any wrongdoing, and said the allegations are malicious hearsay and cruel gossip.Contacted at his home Monday, Ryerson declined to comment except to say, I want to be back at work, but I would really rather not talk about anything else.Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
ASPEN Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryersons use of an official police vehicle while on administrative leave has raised eyebrows. However, City Manager Steve Barwick said use of the vehicle is a legitimate part of Ryersons benefit package, and Ryerson said he has used the unmarked Volvo SUV only once during his leave. The city manager placed Ryerson on administrative leave nearly a month ago amid sexual harassment allegations. He currently is under investigation by the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency the citys insurance and risk-management carrier. I drove the car once, when I had to do my interview with the investigator three miles since Ive been on leave, Ryerson said Monday. The issue of the official vehicle came to light in part because of a letter to the editor in The Aspen Times by Jim Weber, who is the father of former Aspen police officer Melinda Calvano. The letter lambasted Ryerson for using an official vehicle while on leave. Obviously hes looking out for his daughter, Ryerson said. I dont mind being held accountable for things I do, but . Barwick fired Calvano in July 2006 for violating the police departments use-of-force policy, after she used a Taser on an elderly homeless woman. Weber did not return repeated calls for comment. By Joel Stonington