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Sacramento Sheriff’s Department loses bid for new trial in discrimination lawsuit

There will be no retrial in the case of four female Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies awarded nearly $3.6 million in May after claiming retaliation at the hands of their superiors.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge David De Alba in his 11-page order Monday affirmed jurors’ May verdict against Sacramento County, finding that Lt. Annica Hagadorn’s career path ground to a halt after she complained of discrimination to state fair housing and employment officials and that three other plaintiffs named in the lieutenant’s lawsuit also were targets of retaliation by their higher ranking officers.

“Indeed, the Court believes it would be a gross understatement … to say that Hagadorn’s career merely stalled or required some redirection,” De Alba wrote.

De Alba, in his ruling Monday, rejected the county’s request for a new trial and its arguments that Hagadorn was not a victim of discrimination or retaliation.

The county had argued that poor performance reviews hounded Hagadorn long before a stormy tenure as a north area patrol commander that included run-ins with a superior led to an internal affairs investigation and her reassignment.

The deputies’ claims, the multimillion-dollar May verdict and De Alba’s affirmation of it are another blow to the Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Scott Jones, under whose command much of the bias was said to have occurred.

“The judge just reaffirmed the verdict and decision by the jury,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Jerry Chong. “It’s a victory for the citizens of the county of Sacramento and the troops in the trenches for Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.”

Chris Andis, a county spokeswoman, said Monday that Sacramento County “will need to assess the risk and/or benefit of appealing this order and the trial court’s decisions.”

Jones, now a Republican candidate for the suburban Sacramento congressional seat held by Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, has flatly denied the claims of retaliation and bias.

In recent days, Jones has had to refute accusations of unwanted advances toward a female sheriff’s deputy more than a decade ago, when Jones was a sergeant in the department’s legal affairs bureau.

The two-term sheriff denied the accusations in a sworn statement uncovered in documents that were part of the lawsuit brought by the four plaintiffs.

In a statement issued Friday, Jones repeated the denials, saying he “categorically, unequivocally, and emphatically deny the allegations levied against me.”

Attorneys for the county also argued that the lawsuit’s three other plaintiffs, sheriff’s Lt. Dawn Douglas, Deputy Jodi Mendonca and Sgt. Tracie Keillor, could not support claims that they were retaliated against by superior officers including Erik Maness, now the county’s undersheriff, for confronting Maness with suspicions that he had an improper relationship with a female deputy. Sheriff’s officials later determined claims of an inappropriate relationship to be unfounded.

The county’s attorney, Nancy Sheehan, argued that allowing the May verdict and tentative ruling to stand would be “a great step backwards” for women in the workplace by sanctioning assumptions women cannot have male friends on the job without it becoming a relationship.

But De Alba in his ruling questioned the timing of Douglas, Mendonca and Keillor’s reassignments from positions at the Sacramento County Main Jail, concluding that each was targeted by Maness once he took command of the downtown jail.

Within nine months, Douglas, Mendonca and Keillor were reassigned from their positions at the jail.

In Mendonca’s case, for instance, De Alba said there was “substantial evidence” that her removal by Maness from her position as a project coordinator “was a consequence of her complaint.”

De Alba went on to say that while county’s attorneys tried to “explain away” the plaintiffs’ transfers and demotions, Douglas was subject to adverse employment action that was the result of her complaint against Maness.

Attorneys for the county also argued that Keillor – who suffered a stroke several years ago and was awarded $3.2 million of May’s nearly $3.6 million verdict – could not prove that an internal investigation into suspected tampering with electronic personnel files triggered her episode.

“Stating it is not enough. Stating it does not make it true,” Sheehan, of the Sacramento firm Porter Scott, said last week of Keillor’s claim, saying the sergeant’s stroke was determined by a doctor to be of “unknown origin” and that her stroke may have been triggered by injuries Keillor sustained before the department’s 2013 probe.

Meantime, state workers’ compensation officials are also reviewing Keillor’s stroke claim.

De Alba continued a hearing to determine whether to adjust the amount of Keillor’s monetary award until October and an expected decision by state officials.

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith

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