City to pay $100K after complaint of workplace, gender harassment
COTTAGE GROVE — The City of Cottage Grove will pay $100,000 to a former Cottage Grove Police officer after she alleged being subjected to a “hostile work environment and disparate treatment based on sex” in the workplace for over a year. The settlement was made out of court on March 22, according to settlement documents obtained by The Chronicle.
Gabriela Iboa Pierce began her career with the CGPD as a communications specialist for the department in 2018, and was sworn in as a police officer in April 2021. As a young girl, she always knew she wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement, enrolling in the Eugene Police Department Cadet Program in high school. She was fired from CGPD on June 6, 2022 for “not showing improvement during her field training program.”
“That moment was heavy,” she said. “Just sitting in my car realizing that everything I’d fought for was gone. It was ripped away from me for no reason.”
As a mother of five, she’d always envisioned her swearing in ceremony, surrounded by her family and peers. Still, it was during the Covid pandemic and gatherings were restricted.
“I’ve wanted this for my entire life. My biggest thing was to have my husband pin my badge on me, and for my kids to be there. To take that picture. I was told, ‘absolutely not,’” she said.
She asked her supervisors repeatedly for modified ceremonies, but was told pandemic restrictions stood in the way.
“There was another officer, a male officer, who was sworn in during the peak of Covid – but it was held outside. And they let his wife pin his badge on him. And all the officers were allowed to be there,” she said. “That’s when I realized something was different.”
At the time, Iboa Pierce was the only woman moving through the ranks, training to be on patrol.
“I didn’t realize it until I started documenting everything,” she said. “They saw women in power as an issue.”
During her training, she was paired with eight different training partners – a number she said was uncommon for other officers of her rank and status.
“I was completely treated differently than my fellow male co-workers,” she said. “I was shy of having every single training officer in that department. Not only that, I started about a month and a half before one of my co-workers came back from the academy. Within a week or two he was on patrol solo. I didn’t get a chance.”
When she was given her uniform, the “pants issue” began.
“I was completely treated differently than my fellow male officers,” she said. “I was asked to try them on and was told (my pants) were too feminine. They hugged my curves too tightly. So I needed a bigger size.”
Then complaints started coming in, from higher-ups, trainers, and peers that her pants were “unprofessional” and “too tight.”
During her training, she was told her reports were written at a “third grade level,” and she was called “stupid” for taking a different route to a call.
“I’ve always been taught to respect your elders and respect your superiors,” she said. “Basically my thing was, keep your head down. But I knew for myself, after that, that I wasn’t going to give up.”
In October 2022, she served the City with “intent to sue,” paperwork, or a Tort Claim Notice, obtained by The Chronicle through a public records request. The allegations span from April 2021 up until her termination in June 2022, and allege the department subjected her to:
- Unduly scrutinizing her body and the fit of her clothing;
- Delaying her opportunities to train and advance;
- Subjecting her to differential criticism during the trailing process; and
- Ultimately terminating her employment.
Richard Meyers, city manager, has not yet responded to a request for comment.
The City, through its insurer, Citycounty Insurance Services, will cover a majority of the settlement, and the remaining $14,500 will be paid by the City’s contingency funds.
The City and its police have been no strangers to scrutiny in recent months.
In February, another lawsuit was lodged against the City, claiming the City used public resources to enforce federal immigration laws. That lawsuit has been filed by the Rural Organizing Project and Community Alliance of Lane County. Those groups allege that the CGPD violated the Sanctuary Promise Act by:
- Detecting and taking people into custody for immigration enforcement;
- Notifying immigration officials of people in local custody who police believe are violating federal immigration law;
- Holding people beyond their release so immigration officers have time to arrive at the jail;
- Giving immigration officials access to people it is detaining in restricted areas of the Cottage Grove Jail; and
- Sharing confidential information with immigration officials about people in its custody, including release dates, contact information, and personal data.
In January, three sergeants and a dispatch supervisor were placed on paid administrative leave, pending the completion of investigations into their conduct. No further information has been released at this time.
In October 2022, “extremely unacceptable behavior” led to the resignations of Chief Scott Shepherd and Capt. Conrad Gagner, after an internal preliminary investigation found circumstances of:
- Failure to support outside law enforcement agencies,
- Illegal detainment and/or inappropriate release of inmates, and
- Racism, homophobia and sexual harassment.