City Replaces Top Cop, Settles Third Sex Bias Case for $2M

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By Hassan A. Kanu

Nov. 16 — The city of West Des Moines, Iowa, will pay $1.9 million to settle the last of three sex bias cases brought by a group of female police officers, just days after the city police chief resigned at the request of city leadership, an attorney representing officer Tanya Schmell told Bloomberg BNA ( Schmell v. West Des Moines, Iowa Dist. Ct., No. LACL132694, settlement agreement reached 11/15/16 ).

Schmell, the first female sergeant in West Des Moines, was offered the settlement mid-trial, after about a week of hearings, attorney David Albrecht said Nov. 16. The officer had filed a joint complaint along with Carol Gass and Alice Wisner, alleging they were unfairly passed over for promotions and punished for behavior common in the department.

Among their allegations are that former chief, Shaun LaDue, had his entire command staff—except Schmell—introduce themselves during a public meeting on his first day. When she complained, LaDue told her he didn’t have a problem with her being female, and that she should “get over it,” even though Schmell hadn’t mentioned gender, according to the complaint.

LaDue also had a plan to “corral” his female administrative staff into a group cubicle “with restricted access, high walls, and sound proofing,” the group alleged. “The odd thing about this was a lot of the women who worked together” in that area “didn’t necessarily share job duties, they weren’t all doing the same thing,” Albrecht said.

For example, Wisner, whose title was crime analyst, was supposed to be moved into the area, although her job duties were far removed from the female administrative staff.

“The only thing they seemed to have in common was their gender,” Albrecht said.

Gass settled her bias claims with the city in August for $30,000, and Wisner settled last month for $150,000, Albrecht said. Both officers have since left the police department, while Schmell has a pending application for disability retirement.

The city said in a statement Nov. 15 that “the impact of these lawsuits” affected LaDue’s “ability to lead the department.” An interim chief has been appointed.

“I think the hope is that in the search for the new chief, they take that process seriously, get input from stakeholders, whether that be rank and file officer or citizens of West Des Moines, so they can move forward and change the culture at the department,” Albrecht told Bloomberg BNA.

City representatives didn’t respond to requests for comment.

West Des Moines’ insurance provider will cover the settlement expenses. Fiedler & Timmer P.L.L.C in Urbandale, Iowa represented the officers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hassan A. Kanu in Washington at hkanu@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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