SPRINGFIELD, Ore. – A former Springfield Police Department recruit is accusing the department of discriminating against her for being a woman after she was fired when command staff learned of sexual encounters she had with male superiors.
In a labor complaint, the 26-year-old trainee whose name KEZI has chosen to withhold claims the department created a hostile and discriminatory work environment based on her gender.
The complaint details several months of events that ultimately led to her termination in December 2020.
The woman started as a recruit in August and said it immediately became clear the department treated women differently, alleging training officers told her she must get in “bigger fights” than men in order to prove her worth and was once criticized by a superior for a “lack of force” during an altercation with a subject.
In September, she said a detective invited her to his home for special firearms training, where the two later had sex. Afterwards, she claims the detective bragged to others in the office about their encounter.
Then in November, she said she had sex with a different officer – this one a sergeant. Days later when word spread throughout the office, an internal investigation was launched.
The woman was questioned by command staff about whether she had an “inappropriate relationship” with the sergeant. She told staff she did not have a relationship with him, which she said was “her honest understanding of the situation.”
Then, on Dec. 2, less than a week after being questioned, she was fired.
Police Chief Richard Lewis said in the report about her dismissal that she “failed to candidly answer a superior officer’s questions about non-work-related activity.”
But she said the investigation was handled very differently for the sergeant.
“[The sergeant] said the lieutenants had immediately taken his phone and reviewed our private messages and photos,” the complaint said. “They never asked him whether we were in a ‘relationship’ and [he] was not fired.”
Things did not end there. By January, images surfaced of a Christmas card that was being passed around the office with the faces of the detective and sergeant superimposed on the bodies of two Eskimos, implying the officers were “Eskimo brothers,” a slang term for men who have had sex with the same woman.
“My former coworkers and/or supervisors continued to harass me in distributing a card that targeted my private sexual experiences,” she wrote.
Meredith Holley, the attorney representing the woman, said how she was treated by the department violates the law.
“There were a number of supervisors abusing their authority, in my view, and having a sexual relationship with a young woman recruit who was the only woman in her class of recruits,” Holley said.
Holley said this could have a lasting impact on her client.
“She's 26 and just starting out her career. Her dream is to be in law enforcement. And she may not be able to pursue that dream now,” Holley said.
Amber Fossen, a spokesperson for the City of Springfield, said the allegations are actively being investigated.
“We are deeply concerned by the behavior described in the allegations and we’re taking this very seriously. The city hired an outside investigator and the investigation is already underway. This is an essential step to determining what occurred. Harassment and discrimination of any kind are unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Fossen said.
Holley said that if SPD’s actions prevent her client from finding law enforcement work, the client’s lifetime wage loss could be over a $1 million. A jury may be allowed to award more than that at trial.