The first woman promoted to sergeant in the Gig Harbor Police Department has filed a claim against the department and the city, alleging sexism and harassment.
Sgt. Sharon Cox, one of two female officers in the 16-member department, is seeking $2.5 million to $5 million in the claim. The action, filed Sept. 6, alleges:
• Some lower-ranking officers, including members of the Gig Harbor Police Guild, were insurbordinate.
• Subordinates reviewed a memo Cox wrote to Police Chief Mike Davis about her use of sick leave, and he took no action in response.
• A department employee, who Cox’s attorney, Julie Kays, identified as Dan Welch, the head of the union, accessed Cox’s employment file, including pre-employment background documents. When Cox told management about this, according to the claim, the leadership tried to dissuade her from “making a ‘stink’ about it.”
“The chief and the management there aren’t standing up to Welch, and therefore they’re letting this intimidation and bullying go on,” Kays said. “They have got to know that the hostile work environment that is created by this guy is against the law, and that’s what our lawsuit will seek to prove.”
Asked about the claim, Welch said he was under orders from the city not to comment.
Davis referred comment on the claim to the attorney representing the department.
“I just don’t comment on pending claims,” said the attorney, Elizabeth McIntyre.
The city had until Tuesday to respond to the claim. Kays said Thursday she had not yet received the city’s response. Depending on the city’s decision, Kays might file a lawsuit by the end of next week, she said.
According to the claim, when the police department hired Cox in 2007, a lieutenant told her the department hadn’t “had good luck with hiring women.” Last year, when Cox became the first woman in the department promoted to sergeant, Davis told her “she should expect to be given a hard time by the other officers,” the claim states.
Male officers under Cox gave her “flak and lip” when she questioned or corrected them, such as about paperwork, Kays said. Sometimes they circumvented her by taking issues to a lieutenant, and made allegations about her being a deficient supervisor, Kays added.
“Not only are they being insubordinate when she’s correcting them in her capacity as a supervisor, but it’s like they’re following her around looking for any perceived errors she may make, and then they make a mountain out of a molehill,” the attorney said.
Kays contends some of the trouble Cox has encountered is because Welch was passed over when Cox was promoted.
“He’s basically picking on her because she’s a woman, and quite frankly she beat him out for the job and he can’t handle it,” Kays said.
The guild recently held a vote of no-confidence concerning Cox, Kays said, related to a shooting Aug. 11 at a Key Peninsula grocery store in which one man was killed and another seriously wounded. Kays said a memo sent from the guild to the chief about the vote listed “cowardice” among the claims.
A similar or possibly the same document sent to The News Tribune confirms that, and also lists among the guild’s concerns a “lack of trust” in Cox to aid other officers and the public.
The day of the Key Peninsula shooting, Cox was responding to a hit-and-run accident at the Gig Harbor Home Depot outlet, Kays said.
The dispatch for the shooting at 14220 92nd Ave. N.W. came at 12:42 p.m., Kays said. Cox told dispatchers at 12:45 p.m. she’d shortly be at the shooting scene about five miles away. At 12:52 p.m. she said she had left the accident scene and she was at the shooting scene at 12:57, her attorney said.
Cox was following the chain of command by contacting a lieutenant, in a four-minute phone call, about the shooting before she headed to the scene, Kays said. At the same time, Cox was dealing with the hit-and-run accident and trying to get an officer on a boat to help patrol Gig Harbor as other law enforcement responded to the shooting, Kays said.
“She was damned if she did and she was damned if she didn’t,” the attorney said.
Cox was put on administrative leave as her response to the shooting was investigated, and eventually received a written reprimand from the chief for “not performing her assigned duties in a ‘competent manner,’” Kays said. That was for calling the lieutenant, which Cox says she had been instructed to do, Kays said.
When Cox returned from the leave, someone had left an article on her desk about a police officer being sued for a slow 911 response, Kays said.
The next day, Kays said, the guild held a board meeting seeking to decertify Cox as a police officer. As far as Kays knows, the guild does not have the authority to decertify an officer.
“Sharon doesn’t feel safe out there on the streets if these are the people that are going to back her up,” Kays said.
Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268