Cherry Hills Village is one of the most exclusive communities in the State of Colorado -- but behind all that wealth and glamor is a city government marked by a discriminatory and hostile work environment in which sexism is allowed to thrive and whistleblowers are promised protection if they speak out only to be sacked when they say things the powers that be don't like. These are among the claims in a lawsuit filed against the city and its manager by three ex-employees, including a former acting police chief and a veteran prosecutor.
The first plaintiff named in the lawsuit is Jody Sansing, who worked for Cherry Hills Village for fifteen years; he was serving as acting chief of police/deputy police chief at the time of his June 2012 dismissal. He's joined by Suzanne Rogers, who spent seventeen years working as a prosecutor for the community before being sacked in December 2011, and Michelle Edwardson, an animal control officer who was "constructively terminated" the previous June. Edwardson's experiences triggered a number of other problems, the lawsuit maintains.
Cherry Hills Village denies any wrongdoing in a statement on view below in its entirety.
The complaint was filed by Holland, Holland Edwards & Grossman, whose namesakes are John Holland, Erica Grossman and Anna Holland Edwards. Holland is well-known for having represented Alex Landau, whose brutal beating by Denver police led to a $795,000 settlement. More recently, the firm sued the City of Denver over the botched 911 call that led to the death of Jimma Reat last year.
The statement of facts section in the 62-page document, also shared below, lays out the allegations, many of which are aimed directly at John Patterson, former Cherry Hills Village police chief and current city manager. In addition to targeting the town, the lawsuit names Patterson individually. He, too, denies any wrongdoing.
According to the suit, Edwardson was forced to leave her animal-control job due to what is described as "the permeating and extreme hostile work environment she endured on a daily basis, and was unable to correct despite multiple efforts, which was intolerably created and maintained by Defendant Patterson as part of a pattern and practice of sex/gender discrimination engaged in by him towards some female subordinates."
Examples? Edwardson asserts that Patterson regularly yelled at her in front of co-workers, often voicing his view that she was "tough enough," that a man could do her job better, and that she "shouldn't use female charms to get what she wanted."
Other alleged comments: "Women think they can get whatever they want," "women manipulate men," "women make men crazy," "women should not be officers" and "women suck the life out of you."
Another scenario shared by Edwardson: When asked if she would receive reimbursement for travel expenses related to a 2008 training conference, she quotes Patterson as saying, "All you women are the same! It is never enough, is it? You get the training, but now you want more? You are constantly trying to manipulate things to get your way. You think you can bat your eyes and get men to do what you want? I know women like you. You are all the same! You make me sick! I may not even let you go to the training now! Get the fuck out of my office!"
The suit also accuses Patterson of objectifying at least one community member ("Did you see that woman's enormous breasts?" he's said to have told a colleague. "They were so huge, I couldn't stop looking at them"), referring to women as "skirts" and denigrating one male police officer as a "sissy" and a "gay sailor."
Eventually, the lawsuit continues, Edwardson couldn't deal with the abuse any longer and decided to move on -- but before doing so, she voiced her complaints with the human-relations department during an exit interview. She also shared these views in a letter assembled with the help of Rogers. The letter reads in part:
During the last six years, the City has been an extremely difficult place to work. I have been humiliated in front of others, yelled and screamed at in a very demeaning manner, my personal character has been attacked more times than I can count, I have been disciplined for many things that I have never done, but have never been given an opportunity to explain myself or to even ask questions as to why I was being treated so harshly, and if I tried to I would be disciplined or yelled at even harsher, I was told to have someone else take care of my daughter when she is sick, otherwise I would get fired.... All of this harsh treatment I have had to endure was solely because of one person, Chief/City Manager John Patterson.
Afterward, receiving this complaint, Cherry Hills Village hired Greg Giesen to conduct an investigation. The lawsuit maintains that city employees were guaranteed in writing that they would be able to speak anonymously and would not face any retaliation as a result of information they might provide.
Among those who did so was Sansing, who supported many of Edwardson's contentions as related to Patterson, the lawsuit says.
The Giesen report subsequently concluded that Cherry Hills Village's government constituted "one of the worst working/hostile environments he had ever witnessed" and recommended "the termination of Defendant Patterson," the lawsuit states.
Instead, Patterson was allowed to remain on the job and was subsequently promoted to city manager.
In contrast, Sansing, who'd witnessed what he saw as threatening behavior by Patterson (e.g., conducting a meeting with a disassembled gun in front of him) was given the heave-ho, as was Rogers.
The suit argues that the city employee who broke the news to Rogers "expressly acknowledged to her that the decision" to dismiss her "had nothing to do with her job performance. It was clear that the reason for her termination was her well-known participation in the preparation of the letter" written by Edwardson.
The complete Cherry Hills Village response to these accusations can be seen below. But key passages include, "The City categorically refutes both the allegations and any liability associated with these employment matters" and "Cherry Hills Village citizens should be confident in the professionalism and excellent standards of service provided by its Police Department and all city employees," plus a reference to insurance that covers claims by former employees.
When asked to comment about the suit, plaintiffs' attorney Holland says, "We think this is a really important First Amendment and employment case, and we look forward to airing out the detailed allegations of the case in court."
Here's the suit and the statement:
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Jimma Reat's family sues Denver over botched 911 call that led to his death."