Lawsuits accuse San Diego Harbor Police Department of sexual harassment, discrimination

Department to go to court in 2013

SAN DIEGO -  

The San Diego Harbor Police Department will go to court in early 2013 to defend itself against two lawsuits that claim women who work for the department are sexually harassed.

Former Harbor Police Officer Kelcy Davis filed a lawsuit in 2010, claiming she was "hit on" by male officers in what she called a barrage of sexual harassment. 

A second lawsuit just filed by four female officers claims the department is a hostile work environment filled with sexual harassment. The suit also claims the department fails to prevent the harassment and not only discriminates against women but retaliates against those women who report the harassment and discrimination.

"I have not seen a pattern like this in any cases I've had in the last 20 years," said attorney Scott Toothacre, who filed the complaint on behalf of Jennifer McMaster, Sara Madvay, Jolene McAllister and Carissa Zettel.

The women claim several men in the department make public comments about their bodies, ask them about their dating and sexual preferences and make them feel uncomfortable on a regular basis.

The court documents outline how Madvay was sexually harassed by the same corporal for two and a half years. At one point, several veteran and supervisory officers urged her to strip down to her bra and panties and jump in the water at 3 a.m. She eventually did as they asked, only to be photographed as she climbed back into the boat.

Madvay was later disciplined for conduct unbecoming an officer. The male officers involved were found to be in violation of department policies regarding sexual harassment, courtesy and dignity. The incident is now referred to as "swimgate," according to court documents.

When Madvay became a member of the department's dive team, the lawsuit claims male officers would enter the women's locker room as she was dressing or would use the women's toilet, often urinating on both the seat and the floor.

Zettel claims her immediate work environment "has been abusive and hostile causing her undue emotional distress."

The day before graduating from the academy, Zettel claims a corporal "took her aside and warned her not to be like another female officer who 'slept her way to the top.'" He advised her not to be the department "pincushion".

A sergeant is accused of repeatedly asking Zettel about her dating habits, offering to set up dates for her. According to court documents, he also asked her if she "would want to date a black man."

The lawsuit asks that the discrimination stop and the women be compensated for the emotional distress they've allegedly suffered and any lost wages because of promotions or special assignments they didn't take in an effort to stay away from their harassers.

A spokesman for the San Diego Harbor Police Department told 10News the department can't comment because "it's a personnel issue."

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