Saturday, February 27, 1999

Another ex-worker takes city to court

Complaint 4th in Sharonville

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SHARONVILLE — A former auxiliary police officer has filed suit in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court charging that he has been subjected to racial discrimination and harassment in the department.

        The suit, brought by Timothy W. Johnson of Fairfield, brings to four the active number of lawsuits filed in county or federal courts by former police department employees since 1996.

        The other lawsuits accuse the department of violations ranging from sexual harassment and age discrimination — including a too-grueling physical fitness test — to forced resignations.

        Mr. Johnson contends in the suit, filed last week, that he was fired on Dec. 4, 1997. Police Chief Mike Schappa said Mr. Johnson resigned.

        The resignation came after Mr. Johnson learned a recommendation had been sent to the safety-service director by Chief Schappa to dismiss Mr. Johnson, officials said. Only the safety-service director can terminate auxiliary officers. Such officers volunteer to work at special city events, such as parades and festivals, along with some special paid details.

        Chief Schappa cited Mr. Johnson for repeated violations of department regulations and failure to meet the service requirements of an auxiliary officer.

        In his suit, Mr. Johnson is asking for at least $25,000 for mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of self-esteem and physical injury from adverse health effects brought on by racial harassment.

        Sharonville Law Director Thomas Keating declined specific comment about any of the suits. All are being contested by the city with no offers to settle, he said. Mr. Keating noted that no former police department employee suing the city was fired from the department — all resigned.

        “Every one of these people left voluntarily,” Chief Schappa said. “No one in this city had a right to fire them on their own. We have a clear and specific civil service process. All of our employees know that. We even extended (an offer of pursuing the civil service process) to (Mr. Johnson), which we did not have to do” because he was an auxiliary officer. ”

        Mr. Johnson claims he was treated differently from other officers — “issued formal or written reprimands for the same type of activity for which Caucasian officers were only given informal or verbal warnings” ... and that “his record was disparaged to the point that he would never be offered a full-time Peace Officer position.”

        Mr. Johnson and his attorney, Keith Schneider of Columbus, could not be reached for comment.

        The department has 33 sworn officers with a complement of 15 auxiliary members. One auxiliary officer is a minority. Four full-time officers are women, with one woman in the auxiliary. Of the department's 11 civilian employees, 10 are women, the chief said.

        Another of the four lawsuits was filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court, Cincinnati. Three former officers claim the rigors of a now-discontinued physical fitness test forced them to retire.

        The former officers are: Daniel R. Haas, 51, who was a police lieutenant commanding the road patrol, and Kent Nicolay, 49, a lieutenant and squad commander, both of Sharonville; and Charles G. Chambers, 52, a senior patrol officer from Evendale.

        Also included in the suit is Robert Enoch, about 68, of West Chester, a longtime civilian police department employee and recognized street gang expert, who claims he was pressured to retire because of his age.

        Each is asking for at least $75,000 in compensatory damages and unspecified punitive damages and attorneys' fees.

        The oldest suit still pending against the police department is a sexual harassment action filed in August 1996 in U.S. District Court by former officer Della Swincher of Morgan Township, Butler County, and former police clerk/dispatcher Melinda Smith of Reading. Each is seeking $500,000 and attorney fees.

        Attorney Mark Byrne, who represents the women, said the case is set for trial in July.

        Both women allege they were subjected to numerous sexual comments and acts by members of the police department that “created a hostile working environment” that forced them to resign.

        In that suit, the city has acknowledged the women filed some valid complaints, but claim police officials took appropriate disciplinary action with offending male officers. Mr. Byrne also represents former police department employee Thomas McCreanor, of Sharonville, in a suit filed in July 1997. Mr. McCreanor claims he was forced to resign as a department technician because the city changed his job requirements to make it physically impossible for him to do it and harassed and pressured him. Mr. McCreanor is seeking $750,000.


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