San Diego's Police Department has been slapped with another sexual discrimination lawsuit, bringing the tally to five such lawsuits filed by female officers against the department in as many years.
Denise Mills, a 15-year-veteran of the force, says her supervising officers routinely and repeatedly discriminated against her for being a woman and retaliated against her for taking maternity leave.
Mills, who currently works in the San Diego Police Department's juvenile services unit, says the harassment began in 2009 upon informing her sergeant Martha Sainz that she was pregnant and planned to take time off for maternity leave. Shortly after, Mills noticed Sainz began to favor the male officers and began calling Mills, Dennis rather than her name Denise.
Sainz allegedly began to threaten Mills’s position and said it might not be available upon her return from maternity leave. The stress took its toll on Mills. A doctor later advised her to take 30 days’ leave from her job to alleviate the stress and prevent any potential harm to her pregnancy.
Upon returning from her temporary leave, Mills discovered that her desk had been broken into and files were missing. She reported it to her captain but complaining to her superior made matters worse and the negative behavior from her colleagues intensified.
While recovering from childbirth, Mills received a phone call from the unit's new sergeant ordering her to clean out her office. Mills contacted internal affairs to lodge a formal complaint, requesting that it be handled at the state level and not by the department. Mills was then transferred to another department and the complaint was dismissed.
Mills remained at her new post without any additional complaints…that is, until 2014, when she informed her supervisors that she was pregnant. Her supervisor, Sgt. Gutierrez (first name unknown), allegedly reprimanded Mills for waiting to inform him of her pregnancy. Mills said she waited in fear of having another miscarriage. Mills soon noticed she was being stripped of tasks. She again filed a formal complaint, this time with assistant chief Todd Jarvis. (In January 2015 Jarvis was mentioned in a separate lawsuit for defending what a fellow officer said was a racist cartoon shown during training classes.)
Mills also told Jarvis that she was contemplating whether to hire local attorney Dan Gilleon, who has tried many high-profile cases against the city and former mayor Bob Filner.
Jarvis allegedly responded with a warning that doing so could potentially "ruin [her] career."
Mills’s colleague and former deputy city attorney Angie Reddish Day allegedly compared Mills to "the women who had complained about Mayor Filner and Officer Chris Hays, saying none of those women suffered anything and they just made up complaints to get money."
Mills then hired attorney Gilleon.
Take That, Chief
In a November 19 statement, Gilleon said the problem strikes at the heart of the San Diego Police Department's “good old boys’” network.”
"This case underscores the lack of leadership at [San Diego Police Department], which apparently discounts its obligation to ensure female officers aren't harassed simply because they're women," says Gilleon. "The fact her harasser was her supervisor makes this lack of leadership all the more apparent.
"Second, this case involves [San Diego Police Department's] modus operandi of retaliating against officers who assert their legal rights. I think the fact Officer Mills hired me even though Chief Jarvis threatened her career speaks volumes, both about Officer Mills' integrity, as well as the lack thereof at the highest levels of [the department's] leadership….
"This case serves as an example of the opaqueness of Chief [Shelley] Zimmerman's proclamation of 'transparency.’ The truth is that while Chief Zimmerman is claiming she is cracking down on bad cops, the reality is she's promoting any cop — good or bad — as long as they demonstrate willingness to be one of her 'yes men.'"
As reported by the Reader in May of last year, homicide detective Dana Hoover, who also hired attorney Gilleon, sued the police department for sexual discrimination.
According to the lawsuit, her colleagues had shut her out of crime scenes, demeaned her, and made "grunting, animal sounds" whenever she spoke. That case is ongoing. A trial date has not yet been set.
As reported by Voice of San Diego in May 2014, the city had settled three previously unrelated sexual harassment lawsuits for a reported $120,000.