The Tempset

Prologue: It all started when a group of women in the Denver city treasurer's office began going out to lunch together. In the end, all that was left was an $80,000 check and a receipt from Hooters.

Laura R. Fisher sued the city after quitting her job as a senior auditor in 1994. She claimed that the office was hostile to women and that when she spoke up about it, managers retaliated against her. The city avoided a trial in the case by paying Fisher $80,000 last month.

That settlement ended four years of gender-based antics by employees in the auditor's section. The locker-room exploits ultimately drew scrutiny from the highest levels of city government. At the direction of City Treasurer Steve Hutt, three "focus groups" and four full days of staff "seminars" were held--during office hours--to discuss the tensions that had developed. A flurry of on-the-job memo writing took place, and at least two disciplinary actions were taken against employees for making inappropriate remarks--including Fisher herself, who admitted to calling another female staffer a "goddamn bitch" immediately before quitting. The case dragged in city council members and Mayor Wellington Webb, and city attorneys racked up dozens of hours of legal work. The total cost to taxpayers: unknown.

This is the participants' story, in their own words.


"The subject of a 'lunch club,' consisting of six or seven women in Treasury, which goes by the acronym SLAM, came up at this [supervisors'] meeting. The subject has been discussed briefly at one or more prior meetings. As I recall, at this particular meeting a question was directed at me as to what SLAM stands for and what the group does at their luncheons. I responded that I did not know what SLAM meant, and someone else in our group made a comment at this time. It was at this point in the meeting that I made a mistake and jokingly said something to the effect, 'I hope they are not becoming bra-burning bitches.'"

--Memo from Jerry Arellano, Laura Fisher's audit supervisor, to Scott Sprague, audit manager

"Jerry went on to relate that the group was called SLAM, and he expressed his curiosity as to the meaning of the letters in the title. Jerry then laughingly referred to the group as 'feminists' and then as 'Bra-Burning Bitches.' I immediately pointed out to Jerry the inappropriateness of his remarks. He then apologized to me for his comments. I perceived his remarks to be sexist in nature, in that they showed a derogatory attitude towards female members of the professional staff of the department."

--Memo from Madeline Aswad, audit supervisor, to Scott Sprague

"Jerry made the remark that went something like, 'I think Laura's trying to turn them into bra-burning bitches,' which seemed to get some chuckles from almost everybody. I perceived this as Jerry trying to make a joke. Maddie [Madeline Aswad] is the only one I don't remember hearing chuckle or smile, and then she turned to Jerry and called his name, obviously not approving of this remark. Jerry immediately apologized to Maddie."

--Memo from Dean Peressini, audit supervisor, to Scott Sprague

"The SLAM group was brought up. Jerry expressed that he didn't understand why a women's group was formed, nor what the letters stood for. He and Dean chuckled when Jerry called the group a bunch of 'Bra-Burning Bitches.' I commented that I just threw [my bra] away, and didn't think any more on his comment, because that's Jerry. However, Maddie appeared to be disturbed by the statements."

--Memo from Patricia LeClaire, audit supervisor, to Scott Sprague

"Notice of contemplated disciplinary action. This is to advise you that disciplinary action is being contemplated for violation of the following Career Service Authority Rules:

16-23 (4) Failure to maintain a satisfactory working relationship with other employees or the public.

16-23 (14) Sexual harassment which has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an employee's work performance or which creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment."

--Memo from Scott Sprague to Jerry Arellano

As punishment for the "bra-burning bitches" comment, Jerry Arellano received a letter of reprimand. Arellano then filed a grievance against his supervisor, Scott Sprague, charging that the disciplinary measure was unfair. A deal was struck: Arellano would withdraw his grievance if the reprimand was removed from his personnel file after one year.

But the intrigue within the treasury department was only beginning. And the mysterious SLAM remained at the core of the controversy.


"Q: For the record, what does SLAM stand for?
Laura Fisher: Sisters Laboring Among Men."
--From the deposition of Laura R. Fisher

"Q. Why do you believe there was all the concern in the office about this group of women going to lunch together?

Dean Peressini: Again, I don't know if I would characterize it as a concern...It was more, 'Why are they doing this? Does SLAM mean they're trying to slam men?' So, I mean, yeah, if that's their concern--'Are they talking about us behind our backs?' Maybe that was the concern. I don't really know why that was their concern. It was really not a concern of mine."

--From the deposition of Dean Peressini

"I would be remiss if I did not mention the 'Origin of a Group of Women Going to Lunch.' One day the women auditors decided that it would be nice to get together every other Wednesday for lunch...Who would have thought that five women auditors having lunch, discussing audits, work clothes, movies and other miscellaneous exciting topics too numerous to mention would create such a stir?"

--From the resignation letter of Sue Sedlachek, Senior Auditor

"And that's when I told Steve exactly what [SLAM] meant. He was very, very supportive. Very supportive, that, yes, this is inappropriate that they're making a big deal about you women going to lunch and kind of went on that he really wanted to fix this place."

--From the deposition of Laura R. Fisher

In order for any legal settlement to be paid by the city, the city council must pass an ordinance authorizing the expenditure. Before the vote on Laura Fisher's $80,000 settlement, an executive session of the council was held in Mayor Wellington Webb's office to briefly review the issue. City councilwoman Susan Barnes-Gelt says that during the meeting she asked the city attorney who handled the case what steps were being taken to address the "old boy" atmosphere at Treasury. That lawyer, George Cerrone, said he'd get back to her. According to Barnes-Gelt, he hasn't.


"All the guys had nicknames. The one that was real offensive was John Cherrey's nickname, Buster. And Chris Anderson told me what Buster meant. He used to brag about his conquests with women. And his last name being Cherrey, they called him "Cherrey Buster." I thought that was offensive."

--From the deposition of Laura R. Fisher

"He told me--told me his family calls him Buster, and I had no reason to believe that it--that it was inappropriate, if his family called him Buster."

--From the deposition of Dean Peressini

"John Cherrey's nickname is Buster. I understand that John was given this nickname because of his boasting about his prowess around women, i.e., Cherry 'Buster.' From this reasonable woman's viewpoint, this is an unacceptable term to be used in the office, or anywhere for that matter."

--From the resignation letter of Sue Sedlachek

"John Cherrey's nickname refers to a brand of shoe that he orders and usually wears. These are 'Buster Bostonians.' I have discussed the use of this nickname with John, and he will discourage its use."

--Memo from Scott Sprague to Steve Hutt


"Don [Korte, an audit supervisor] said it. Scott said it. Dean said it. It was just like that was their way of telling me I'm doing a good job: 'Boy, you really audit like a man.' That was their way of telling me I did a good job. And they didn't understand that that was not appropriate."

--From the deposition of Laura R. Fisher

"We have a casual day every Friday, and a lot of casual days we went to Hooters, or to other places. But again, I mean, I quite often did not go to these, because I just don't eat lunch that often."

--From the deposition of Dean Peressini

"I know Don would sometimes kind of characterize it as, 'It's casual day, so that means it's Hooters day.' I do recall him saying that. As far as it being kind of a guys' outing, that was never my impression."

--From the deposition of Dean Peressini

"They had this guy, Gary Jackson, and they had come and said they wanted to get him a stripper for his birthday [at a local bar]. And I said, 'That's okay,' and pitched in...It was really trashy, she was a very, very young girl...I specifically told them it was in poor taste to take everything off...and she took everything off."

--From an interview with Michelle Moreno, former audit supervisor

"The purpose of the [training] exercise is without question excellent. What better way to learn the ropes than by conducting an audit simulation? However, is it necessary to include among the customers: H. Heffner ordering a book on tax evasion by Leona Helmsley, Shotgun Wilbur's Bar ordering a video on converting the dance floor to a driving range, and C. Brinkley of Malibu, California, receiving free golf lessons? Is it necessary to include Penthouse Forum magazine among the purchases made by [the imaginary firm]?"

--From the resignation letter of Sue Sedlachek

"Cherrey also commented to another supervisor that supervising women was like babysitting."

--From an order by U.S. District Court Judge Lewis T. Babcock

"Scott Sprague told me that I was a strong woman and he thought I could help John Cherrey with his woman problems."

--From the deposition of Laura R. Fisher

When Sue Sedlachek resigned her position as senior auditor in August 1993, she wrote a six-page, single-spaced letter to Patricia Schwartzberg, Manager of Revenue. In it, Sedlachek stated: "Presently, the agency's culture is white-male-oriented and tends to perpetuate and reward degrading attitudes toward women and minorities. The Treasury has attempted to address these issues, but significant gains are not being made."


"Hutt then formed a focus group of male and female employees to address diversity and sensitivity training. He asked Fisher to be part of the group. Fisher initially objected to the assignment, indicating that she would be retaliated against by her male supervisors. Hutt assured the plaintiff that she would not be."

--From an order by Judge Babcock

"Subject: Summary of Focus Group Meeting. Needs Identified: To understand the origin of a group of women going to lunch together and men's reaction to it..."

--Memo from Steve Hutt to all audit unit staff

"Subject: Summary of Focus Group Meeting. The second meeting of the focus group was held yesterday...The suggestion was made that the focus group itself is too exclusive and should be abandoned in favor of a more open-ended group."

--Memo from Steve Hutt to all audit unit staff
"Subject: Summary of Third Focus Group Meeting. As discussed last time, the group feels a seminar on improving working relationships and team building would benefit the entire audit unit..."

--Memo from Steve Hutt to all audit unit staff

"As a result of the three focus group meetings, two separate two-day seminars were conducted by professional trainers to address the specific concerns of the focus group: diversity and team building. The plaintiff was selected to choose a facilitator for the training. Plaintiff was later critical of the facilitator whom she had recommended, calling the facilitator a "sexist pig."

--From the city's Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment

"Fisher was chosen to select a facilitator, however, none of the individuals she wanted were available. According to Fisher, the individual who conducted the first seminar, Doug Sullivan, did not address the concerns raised by the focus group and, in fact, acted in a sexist manner. Fisher discussed Sullivan's performance with him and called him a "sexist pig."

--From an order by Judge Babcock

Darlene Ebert, assistant city attorney, says the city sees about three cases "like this" every year.


"I understand a lot of things were said up there. And people were saying, you know, 'That person has no right to say this. She shouldn't have said that,' and blah, blah, blah. And what happened was, the focus groups, in my opinion, created a worse, more hostile environment."

--From the deposition of Jerry Arellano

"The focus groups were the motivating factor in the supervisors' decision to retaliate against Plaintiff."

--From plaintiff Fisher's response to the city's summary judgment motion

"Fisher asserts that because of her vocal participation in the focus group, she lost the support of management. In support of this contention, Fisher offers evidence that she was denied the opportunity to conduct training audits, was the subject of discussion and eventually the target of a letter sent to the State Board of Accountancy [questioning the validity of] her CPA certification, and was generally treated differently than the other senior auditors."

--From an order by Judge Babcock

"I, Christine Anderson, being of sound mind, legal age, and duly sworn, depose and state that:...I sent the anonymous letter dated February 24, 1994, to the State Board of Accountancy regarding Laura Fisher...I was promoted soon after on March 16, 1994."

--From the affidavit of Christine Anderson, auditor support staff

"I believe that Laura Fisher is a very competent auditor and that she performed well in her duties while she was at the Treasury."

--From the affidavit of Christine Anderson

"I said Pat, you're a bitch, a goddamn bitch."
--From the deposition of Laura R. Fisher, describing a remark to Patricia LeClaire that the city had cited in an attempt to fire Fisher.

"Notice of Contemplated Disciplinary Action: This notice is to advise you that disciplinary action is being contemplated for violation of the following Career Service Authority Rules:

16-22 Causes for Immediate Dismissal
16-22 (5) Conduct while on duty which violates the common decency and morality of the community..."

--Memo from Scott Sprague to Laura Fisher

"God and Steve will destroy you for the trouble and problems you caused us you incompetent Dyke--get an oral muscle relaxant."

--From an anonymous note written on Treasury scrap paper, mailed to Laura Fisher the day after she quit.

"Pope Warns Against Radical Feminism."
--From a newspaper clipping attached to the anonymous "Dyke" note.
Steve Hutt, Dean Peressini and Jerry Arellano refuse to comment on the case. John Cherrey and Don Korte did not return phone calls. Mayor Webb and George Cerrone also decline comment. Attempts to reach diversity facilitator Doug Sullivan for comment were unsuccessful.

The treasurer's office will not comment on whether any of the men or women involved in the Fisher dispute will face further discipline.

Laura Fisher received her $80,000 check last month. She is now employed by the City of Boulder as an auditor.

SLAM has since disbanded.


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