Former Windham police officers complains of harassment

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A former officer at Windham Police Department claimed the agency discriminated against her by subjecting her to a hostile work environment where she was sexually harassed.

Danielle Cyr filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission in 2010. She also claimed police retaliated against her because she complained about the sexual harassment.

The department said it handled Cyr’s harassment complaint properly and denied it retaliated against her.

An investigator at the Commission concluded there were reasonable grounds to believe that the town discriminated against Cyr by subjecting her to a hostile work environment based on sex. The same investigator wrote in her report that there were no reasonable grounds to believe the police department retaliated against Cyr for her complaint of harassment.

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A retired FBI agent hired by the department to investigate Cyr’s claims found that the department acted appropriately in firing her harasser, but was too slow to act and didn’t take adequate actions. The retired agent also concluded that there was no retaliation against Cyr for her complaint.

She remains on leave from the department.

Cyr started working as a police officer at the Windham Police Department in December 2006.

The discrimination began in the spring of 2009 and continues, her complaint says. An unnamed police officer started working for the town in January 2009. He was fired in October for inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment, according to the investigator’s report.

Cyr reported the offending officer’s actions (including putting his hand on hers and wrapping his arms around her) to both her supervising sergeant and his supervising sergeant, she told the MHRC investigator.

After Cyr’s repeated efforts to tell the offending officer not to touch her, she approached his supervisor, she said. That sergeant told Cyr that she needed to make it clear to the officer that she didn’t want to be touched. She did that and his behavior continued, she told the Commission’s investigator. That sergeant said there was nothing he could do about the officer’s behavior if it wasn’t captured on audio or videotape.

In the late spring or early summer of 2009, she complained to her director supervisor about the officer’s inappropriate behavior, she said. Her sergeant told her he would talk to the officer. The offensive behavior continued, including an incident during which he reportedly showed his genitals and urinated in her presence. Cyr reported it, she said.

She and the officer were dispatched to respond to a call in June. At the scene of the incident, the officer swore at her in front of civilians and openly challenged her decision-making, she told the investigator.

She began to call in sick often starting in June 2009 and continued in July. When she did work, the officer repeatedly put her in danger by not properly assisting her in the field and he would ignore her, she told the investigator. He called her a vulgar names and told her to quit if she couldn’t handle the job, she said.

In late August, she attended a meeting with both her sergeant and his and discussed working on “team-building” in an effort to improve their working relationship, she said. She expressed doubts, but was told her refusal would reflect poorly on her in her evaluation, showing she wasn’t a team player.

The next month, the officer put Cyr in danger at a scene involving firearms, she said. Instead of clearing her of danger, the officer yelled at her. The officer criticized Cyr over a police radio.

She told her sergeant she didn’t feel safe working with the officer. Her sergeant said he would put Cyr and the officer on separate shifts, she said.

In October, the officer was investigated by internal affairs and fired. The department apologized and reimbursed Cyr for 50 hours of sick and vacation time she had taken because she didn’t feel comfortable or safe at work due to the continued harassment, she said

“This shows that the respondent acted appropriately,” to correct the reported harassment, the department told the Commission’s investigator.

Cyr was treated the same after her complaint as she was before, the department said. No retaliation was taken against her, the department told the investigator.

The investigator recommended Cyr and the department seek to reach conciliation on the charge of discrimination by subjecting her to a hostile work environment. The investigator, Amy Sneirson, recommended the portion of Cyr’s case claiming retaliation be dismissed.

The Maine Human Rights Commission Board is scheduled to meet on March 5 to vote on the investigator’s recommendation.

If the Board were to support the investigator’s recommendation, an out-of-court agreement is encouraged. If the two sides are unable to agree, the Board would look to the legal department to recommend whether to take legal action or not before taking a final vote.

cwilliams@sunjournal.com

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