City of Enumclaw settles claims from police officers

Allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination and fraud disappeared recently when Enumclaw’s insurance carrier came to terms with two city employees.

Formal claims had been filed two days apart in November 2011 by police officer Nona Zilbauer and Amber Brunelle, a member of the city’s corrections staff. Each sought $350,000 in damages and each was represented by attorney Robert Kim of Covington. Claims were made to the Washington Cities Insurance Authority.

Those allegations have legally vanished due to a settlement agreement signed by each of the complainants and Enumclaw Mayor Liz Reynolds. There were identical agreements for each employee.

As part of the settlement, each woman received $15,000. A crucial element eliminates all claims of any illegal behavior.

“This agreement is a compromise of disputed claims and shall not be construed in any way as an admission by (Zilbauer, Brunelle or the city) of any wrongdoing whatsoever against each other,” according to the text of the documents.

Specifically, Brunelle had alleged sexual harassment, discrimination and fraud against the Enumclaw Police Department’s Lt. Eric Sortland, Sgt. Tyler Chilman and Officer Chris Grant, as well as the police department and city as a whole. Zilbauer’s claim had the same targets – with the exception of Grant – and alleged sexual harassment and violations of the Equal Pay Act.

Sortland is no longer with the police department, having been terminated in October 2011 for insubordination. In an effort to regain his post, Sortland has appealed his firing to the city’s Civil Service Commission. His hearing begins Thursday.

“Since day one of my hiring, I have been the victim of multiple acts of discrimination and harassment (sexual and otherwise),” Zilbauer wrote in her claim, adding that both the city and its police department neglected to respond to repeated complaints. She was initially hired for a corrections job and later joined the police force as a patrol officer.

Among Zilbauer’s claims:

  • she and Grant were both hired in June 2007 to perform the same duties, but Grant was awarded a higher rate of pay;
  • she was unfairly singled out for extended periods on the graveyard shift;
  • and, when hired as a patrol officer, she was again started at a lower pay grade than a departmental peer.

“This is truly outrageous and illegal,” Zilbauer wrote in her claim. “I have suffered tremendous financial loss in pay, overtime and retirement.”

As a result of specific overt actions by the named individuals, followed by the city’s inaction when complaints were lodged, Zilbauer wrote that she had suffered “severe emotional distress.”

Brunelle, who came to Enumclaw in August 2009 with 11 years of experience as a corrections officer, alleged she was made to feel unwelcome from the beginning of her employment. She wrote that she and Zilbauer were ordered through more training than other corrections officers, only because of their gender.

Brunelle also claimed:

  • her starting rate of pay was less than she had been promised;
  • she was assigned a disproportionate amount of time on graveyard shift; and
  • she was subjected to “extremely offensive sexual, racial and other types of harassing remarks.”

Like all governmental entities, she wrote, the city of Enumclaw and its police department “have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy against harassment of any kind. Obviously, I have come to realize that this policy is more theory than reality.”

Asked for comment about the settlement, Kim provided an emailed statement: “Legal actions are time and resource intensive. The women wanted to move on.  It’s also a small department. Suing such a department while still working there would create an untenable situation. Racists, sexists, and bigots are prevalent in law enforcement.  Nature of the biz so to speak.  It is very hard for women and minorities. We’ll keep an eye on Nona and Amber going forward and see if the department is committed to compliance with Title 7, WLAD.”

The WLAD is the Washington Law Against Discrimination.

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