Former officer wins suit against S’thorne
SILVERTHORNE – Barring an appeal by the town, a former Silverthorne police officer will collect more than $140,000 in lost wages after a jury determined superiors retaliated against her.
A U.S. District Court jury found in favor of Tina White Aug. 1, agreeing with White’s claim that discipline and her eventual firing by Chief John Patterson were in retaliation after White filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
White, now a police officer in Frisco, was fired from the Silverthorne Police Department in July 1999. Based on the jury’s finding, U.S. District Judge Lewis T. Babcock awarded White $117,000 in back-pay, $23,575 in front-pay (to account for postulated raises and merit increases) and attorney fees and court costs.
“The town of Silverthorne is disappointed that the jury came to this decision,” wrote Town Manager Kevin Batchelder in a prepared statement. “We strongly disagree with that decision and we feel it does not reflect the facts in the case. The town is currently considering its legal options, including an appeal of this decision.”
White, on the other hand, felt the court’s decision and award was “very fair.”
“This resolved some issues in my mind,” White said. “Now I’m just waiting to see what they do.”
According to court documents, White joined the Silverthorne department in 1993. She was promoted to sergeant in 1996, duties for which included supervising day shift officers, attending town council meetings and administrative functions.
Former Chief Molly Franklin proposed the creation of a lieutenant position in the department in 1998, court papers said, and the proposal was approved by Silverthorne’s town council. White applied for the position, the only internal applicant. But Franklin didn’t fill the position before resigning in December 1998 (amid allegations of improper conduct and relations with subordinates).
Former town manager Darrick Wade appointed Sgt. John Minor to serve as interim chief. Minor did not fill the lieutenant position. In February 1999, Minor notified White she was the subject of an internal affairs investigation, according to court testimony. The investigation, conducted by the district attorney’s office, was based on allegations that White had made false entries on time cards and had violated department policy by showing another officer a confidential internal affairs file.
On March 11, 1999, White filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC. The complaint alleged male Silverthorne officers were receiving preferential treatment, a claim also supported by confidential police sources interviewed following Chief Franklin’s resignation.
The district attorney’s investigation found inconclusive evidence on allegations against White concerning the time cards, but concluded she had violated policy by showing her fellow officer the confidential file. Acting Chief Minor deferred any decision regarding discipline to the incoming chief.
The town hired John Patterson to fill the chief position in April 1999. After a May meeting on the discipline issue, Patterson put White on a four-day suspension without pay. Patterson completed a performance evaluation on White the next month, giving her a 4.55 on a scale of 10. White protested the review.
Toward the end of June 1999, Patterson told White disciplinary actions were being considered against her for continued violations of his instructions and department policy. On July 6, Patterson placed White on administrative leave. White was fired two days later for violations including unbecoming conduct, unprofessional behavior and failure to respond to supervision. White appealed, but the town manager upheld the termination.
White then filed suit in U.S. District Court. Her claim, based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleged discrimination, retaliation, equal pay violations and breach of contract. The judge dismissed all claims other than the retaliation charge.
Patterson, contacted Wednesday, would not comment on the lawsuit.
If the town does pay (an appeal is possible in the next three weeks), Batchelder said the town’s insurance provider covers attorney fees, but Silverthorne would pay the salary awards out of a contingency fee in the budget.
Batchelder’s statement also emphasized that “it is important to note that the jury itself did not award any compensatory or punitive damages to the plaintiff.
“Under EEOC laws the federal judge is obligated to award front and back pay when there is a jury finding,” the statement said. “The amount awarded was minimal, far less than what the plaintiff requested.”
White defended the award, saying an economist calculated a range of lost pay and the judge put the award somewhere in the middle. The high end calculated by the economist was about $400,000, White said. And although the decision was a relief, it doesn’t make working in Summit County any easier.
“There’s tension, yeah, it’s hard at times,” White said. “I spent a lot of time there and dedicated myself to the (Silverthorne) department. We still have contact now, but it’s on a very professional level.”
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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