Friday, November 30, 2018

Fountain settles two discrimination claims, deputy police chief retires

Posted By on Fri, Nov 30, 2018 at 4:45 PM

click to enlarge City of Fountain has settled more legal actions alleging discrimination. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • City of Fountain has settled more legal actions alleging discrimination.
The city of Fountain has made deals to pay two former police officers money after both submitted notices saying they planning to sue for constructive discharge based on gender and racial discrimination, according to the agreements obtained through a records request.

In addition, Deputy Chief Tommy Coates, who claimants said took part in forcing out several police officers who are members of protected classes due to race or gender, will retire Dec. 7, according to a letter also obtained through a records request.

The actions come after the Independent published a story on Oct. 17, which included this sidebar, outlining the legal problems the city faces regarding a sort of house-cleaning carried out by Fountain's Police Chief and Public Safety Director Chris Heberer.

From the Oct. 17 report:
So far, four cops and a firefighter have filed claims against the city of Fountain, a precursor to a lawsuit, according to records obtained by the Independent through open records requests and sources. The firefighter remains on the job, and one police officer is on administrative leave. The others are gone and have yet to be replaced.

The casualty list also includes a black officer who served more than a decade and a 17-year officer of Asian heritage. The other officer, the only Mexican-American on the force, his attorney notes, remains on the payroll but hasn't returned to work after he was pressured by Heberer to report sexual harassment misconduct by others and did so, saying command staff members were "preying on new female recruits." He says he was later pressured by the deputy chief to resign.

All those who have left allege they resigned under duress (known as "constructive discharge" in legal lingo) based on racial and gender discrimination and sexual harassment. And attorney Andrew Swan, who represents four of the five claimants, says people don't "get forced out without the chief's approval." The claims seek a combined total of $3.5 million in damages, or in some cases, reinstatement.
An ex-officer who is female wasn't named by the Indy, because she fears retaliation and inability to get another job based on her claims. The woman agreed to drop legal action in exchange for a $55,000 payment and the city's agreement not to oppose a filing for unemployment. She signed the settlement agreement on Oct. 11.

Former Sgt. Tim Johnson agreed to drop his legal actions upon payment of $30,000, and the same condition for unemployment benefits, in an agreement dated Nov. 14.

"Settlement payments have been made by the City’s insurance provider," City Attorney Troy Johnson says in an email.

Andrew Swan, a Colorado Springs attorney who represents both former officers, declined to comment, citing legal constraints.

Meantime, Coates, 50, submitted an "intent to retire" memo to Heberer on Nov. 7, noting, "It has been an absolute privilege and honor to work for the City of Fountain and serve alongside the great men and women of the Fountain Police Department."

He noted he'd worked for nearly 20 years in law enforcement and is "excited to pursue other opportunities and future endeavors while beginning a new chapter in life."

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