Crime - Sacto 911

Trial begins in Sacramento deputies’ bias suit

Attorneys for four veteran female deputies who sued the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department alleging their careers were derailed after they complained of sex and race discrimination on the job presented their case to jurors Wednesday in Sacramento Superior Court.

Sheriff’s Lts. Annica Hagadorn and Dawn Douglas, Sgt. Tracie Keillor and Deputy Jodi Mendonca sued the department in 2010, saying they were passed over for promotions and assignments, targeted by internal affairs investigations and saw successful careers stalled following complaints to superiors and the state’s office of Fair Employment and Housing. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

“They wanted to make it a better, more fair place to work. They advocated for a fair playing field for all,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Lisa P. Mak in her opening statement Wednesday before Sacramento Superior Court Judge David De Alba. Instead, they were pegged as troublemakers, Mak said. “Ultimately, their careers stopped after they complained.”

Hagadorn was a patrol supervisor in the county’s north area when she claimed she had been passed over time and again for job openings that she needed to promote to the rank of captain, despite her experience, work history and expertise in gender bias and diversity issues.

Keillor and Mendonca, a corrections administrative sergeant and deputy, respectively, say they were retaliated against after reporting what they claimed was an inappropriate relationship between a supervising captain and a deputy in 2008 to Douglas, then an operations commander at the Sacramento County Main Jail.

Attorneys for the four on Wednesday argued each was undermined after they filed their discrimination claims and the civil suit. Hagadorn became the subject of two internal affairs investigations within a matter of months after the lawsuit was filed alleging incompetence and dishonesty in statements to commanding officers.

Douglas was replaced as jail operations commander. Mendonca and Keillor were denied promotions and Keillor faced her own internal affairs inquiry, accused of improperly accessing electronic personnel records, according to their attorneys. Keillor suffered a stroke in February 2013. Her attorneys say the stress of being under investigation was a contributing factor. Sheriff’s attorneys denied that assertion Wednesday.

But Sheriff’s Department attorney Nancy Sheehan, calling the deputies “valued members of the department” in her opening statement, questioned whether they were targets of retaliation.

“They weren’t terminated. They weren’t suspended. They kept their jobs.” Sheehan said, in a theme to which she would often return.

Sheehan said the accusations of inappropriate behavior made by Keillor and Mendonca against their captain and a deputy were the “subject of rumor, gossip and innuendo,” and were later determined to be unfounded after an internal investigation.

Douglas’ move out of jail operations was not driven by bias or retaliation for the claims against the captain, Sheehan maintained. Rather, it was a personnel decision made in response to a leadership style that Sheehan said superiors described as “too rigid.”

“There was no change in pay. No change in shift. They wanted a change in operations,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan also cited a budget crisis at the Sheriff’s Department that led to cost-cutting deputy layoffs and demotions of more senior-ranking deputies, and said the department’s investigation of Keillor was kicked off by Keillor’s comments in a news report that mentioned another employee’s personnel evaluation.

Hagadon was transferred from patrol to corrections after her superior saw her “struggle in her management style,” Sheehan said.

Editor’s Note: Earlier versions of this story incorrectly spelled the name of attorney Lisa P. Mak. We regret the error.

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith