BY MAIRE O’NEILL
A scheduling conference is set for Friday, Nov. 9 in a lawsuit filed by former Los Alamos Police Sgt. Monica Salazar-Casias against LAPD and Los Alamos County Council alleging violations of the New Mexico Human Rights Act (HRA).
The suit says that Salazar-Casias filed a charge of sex discrimination Mar. 6 against the County with the state Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which entered a notice of non-determination and on Apr. 26, she received a notice of non-determination from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, Human Rights Bureau (HRB). The current suit is an appeal of the HRB notice.
Salazar-Casias complained of sex discrimination during her responses to disciplinary actions taken by the County in 2017 and 2018, specifically to LAPD Chief Dino Sgambellone, Deputy Chief Jason Wardlow Herrera and County Manager Harry Burgess, the suit states. She claims they did not take any action “to .the harassment and discrimination”. Salazar-Casias claims she was subject to discipline carried out by Wardlow Herrera and other agents of the County in the form of “threats, reprisals, disciplinary actions and discrimination”, and that “the pattern of discrimination” culminated in her termination in April.
Salazar-Casias alleges that she was placed in an investigation in 2017 because she was told a “third party anonymous person complained that she had a given a job applicant the answers for officer testing in 2017. She claims at the same time, another recent officer hire had told his field training officer that he was given the answers to the test by a male sergeant. She claims the male sergeant was not investigated even though the field training officer notified an LAPD commander about the issue. The suit indicates Salazar-Casias was disciplined with a memo to file even though it was determined she did not provide answers to the applicant.
In June 2017, at a “pre-discipline meeting” with Sgambellone, Wardow Herrera and a commander, Salazar-Casias alleges she was “sternly” told by Sgambellone that the meeting was not to be a discussion but that she would only listen and he would talk. She claims he continually yelled at her and cut her off when she tried to speak. She claims she has sat in as a union representative at other pre-discipline meetings with male officers facing potential discipline and had never seen Sgambellone “do that to anyone”, that Sgambellone had allowed the male officers to speak and “had never raised his voice to them”.
Salazar-Casias also alleges she was placed in an investigation for allowing her shift to call on the phone to dispatchers rather than over the police radio. She complains about Wardlow Herrera emails during the investigation and that to her and that another shift of all male officers was not disciplined for not calling out on the radio or phone for breaks which were more than 30 minutes as allowed by policy.
The complaint alleges that when Salazar-Casias was no longer the training sergeant and was assigned to patrol, she was still required to prepare training and travel paperwork for officers going to training and that no other male officer was required to do so.
Salazar-Casias alleges that in January Sgambellone told her she was under investigation and could face criminal charges but would not tell her the specific charges. She says she met with a third party investigator who told her the investigation was for the release of confidential information to a reporter. She claims she was the escorted out of the police department and that administration continued to refuse to inform her of what policy or statute she was violating. She alleges a male sergeant was in an internal investigation for releasing confidential information to the same reporter, that his investigation only lasted a few days, was done internally and resulted in a “memo to file”.
The suit alleges that Salazar-Casias told a commander in May or June 2017 that she had been sexually harassed by Wardlow Herrera in 2007 to 2009. She alleges she told the commander that she had a difficult time trusting Wardlow Herrera and that when other women complain to her about sexual harassment by Wardlow Herrera, she “believes them due to her own experiences”. She claims the County has accused her of having a bias against Wardlow Herrera and repeatedly used that accusation of bias as justification for imposing discipline.
Salazar-Casias alleges LAPD reported her law enforcement certification to the New Mexico Department of Public Safety which she claims was not done when a male commander pleaded guilty to criminal charges in a district court. She also claims other male commanders received lesser forms of discipline for “serious breaches of county policy and remain employed the police department”.
The complaint says before the “campaign of discipline” was taken against her starting in 2017, Salazar-Casias was “a model employee, a highly recognized and responsible sergeant and free from discipline”.
A response to the lawsuit filed on behalf of the County by attorney James P. Sullivan denies the “campaign of discipline”. It states that any disciplinary actions against Salazar-Casias were “due to her misconduct, poor performance or other legitimate business purposes unrelated to conduct prohibited pursuant to the Human Rights Act”.
Salazar-Casias has requested a jury trial. She is represented by attorney James Montalbano who also reportedly represented her during recent closed arbitration hearings with LAPD, the results of which are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.