A female Tacoma police officer has filed a sexual harassment complaint against the late Police Chief David Brame, sources have told The News Tribune.
The city's Human Resources Department received the complaint early last week, said the department's director, Phil Knudsen. He would not identify who brought the complaint or disclose any details of the case.
Such complaints are filed under the federal Civil Rights Act. That might explain why investigations into the Brame scandal have extended to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office. Federal officials said Tuesday they were joining the investigations because they believe federal criminal violations might have occurred.
In reporting the story, The News Tribune learned the woman's name but is not disclosing it to protect her privacy.
Police and city officials declined to discuss her complaint.
Representatives of Local 6, the union that represents the city's patrol officers, detectives and sergeants, also declined to comment on the complaint.
The city will investigate to determine whether Brame sexually harassed the employee during his 15 months as police chief.
"We will assign an investigator and dig into it," Knudsen said. "We want to see as full investigation as possible while respecting the rights of innocent people."
The woman filed the complaint more than a week after Brame committed suicide April 26. He shot himself after fatally shooting his wife, Crystal, at a Gig Harbor strip mall.
Proving sexual harassment is difficult because the behavior rarely occurs in front of a witness.
Suing - and defending - someone who's dead is trickier still, attorneys say.
"You don't have a client to respond," said Seattle attorney Michael Patterson, who routinely defends individuals and companies accused of sexual harassment "Who's to say what happened? Generally, it's a he-said, she-said situation. In this case, it's a she-said situation because we don't have the he."
Still, such cases aren't impossible, said Patterson, who is not representing anyone involved in the Brame case. He has a case in which his client is deceased.
In situations like that, he bases his investigation on whether the harassment could have happened and whether it was likely. For instance, have similar allegations been made before?
"You're basically defending on circumstantial evidence at that point," Patterson said. "... If this is so out of character, I think a jury would indeed have some trouble with the claim."
When the defendant in a lawsuit is dead, the plaintiff must sue someone representing the defendant's estate.
But because most attorneys finance their cases themselves, it's unlikely they'd take a case filed against an estate, said Tacoma attorney Art Grant, whose firm specializes in employment discrimination lawsuits.
"It gives you pause, because 99 times out 100, the only thing that can come out of a lawsuit is money," said Grant, who isn't involved in the Brame case.
"When someone is not around, unless they've got significant assets, the likelihood of recovery is going to be small."
But in the Brame case, the City of Tacoma may also end up being a defendant.
And the city "is a deep pocket," Grant said.
"Brame is just kind of along for the ride," he said.
Though difficulties for the defense can be pluses for the plaintiffs, the plaintiffs still have to prove their case, he said.
Grant said sexual harassment cases are rarer than they once were, because most companies are catching on that courts find harassment unacceptable.
"Quid pro quo" cases, in which a boss demands sex in exchange for promotion or other favor, are practically nonexistent, Grant said. Cases based on a hostile work environment, in which a "reasonable woman" would feel she was being regularly harassed, are more common but still scarce.
In the Brame case, the complaint was filed with the city's Human Resources Department under the Civil Rights Act, which is enforced by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Such complaints can lead to a claim or lawsuit against the city.
Tacoma's sexual harassment policies mirror federal laws that bar discrimination on the basis of gender.
The policies define sexual harassment as discrimination that involves requests for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances or verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
Even though Brame can't be questioned about the complaint, the city will seek information to prove or disprove the woman's allegation, Knudsen said.
Staff writer Stacey Mulick contributed to this report.
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