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Wisconsin county pays hefty settlement in discrimination suit

On the eve of Mother's Day, we thought we would discuss a settlement reached at the end of April between Waupaca County and a sheriff's deputy who just happens to be a woman. While the county maintains there was no violation of the deputy's civil rights, the settlement awards the deputy back pay with interest, attorney's fees and damages -- about $142,000 all told.

Another part of the agreement goes directly to the deputy's complaint: The sheriff's office must promote the deputy to detective sergeant by 2015. It was the county's repeated denial of promotion applications that the deputy claims violated the Civil Rights Act.

According to court documents, the deputy has been with the sheriff's office for 17 years. For nine years, she applied for promotions and was rejected every time. By the time she filed the complaint, she was one of just two female employees -- her supervisor at one point referred to her as "a token." Apparently, male co-workers expressed their misgivings about reporting to "a skirt."

In 2006, she applied for detective sergeant and was passed over for a man. She met or exceeded all of the qualifications, but the county said that hiring her would have violated department policy. The county explained that deputies cannot supervise family members, and as a deputy she would have to supervise her patrol officer husband. The following year, the county invoked the policy again and directed her not to apply for promotions anymore.

The problem, of course, is that deputies do not supervise patrol officers. On top of that, the sheriff's office boasted eight employees that supervised family members -- eight male employees that supervised family members.

By settling the case, the parties will avoid the time and expense of a trial. The county also avoids a judge or jury's guilty verdict. While the verdict would not be a sure thing, the county's reputation could suffer.

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Alan Olson practices employment law throughout the United States from his offices in New Berlin, Wisconsin. Attorney Olson may be contacted at [email protected] with questions about the information posted here.

Source: Green Bay Press Gazette, "Waupaca County to pay $142,000 in discrimination suit," Todd Richmond, April 27, 2012

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