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Fired Officer Sues Huntington Park Chief : Ex-Policewoman Alleges Sex Bias

January 08, 1987|RALPH CIPRIANO | Times Staff Writer

A woman who was fired after 10 years as the only female officer on the Huntington Park Police Department has filed a suit that accuses Chief Geano Contessotto of sex discrimination.

Victoria H. Kuhn, 35, of Long Beach charged in a $4-million suit filed last week in Norwalk Superior Court that Contessotto has a "bias against female officers" and that the "sole reason" Contessotto fired her in March, 1986, was her sex.

Contessotto denied the accusations of sex discrimination. In an interview Monday, the chief said that for years Kuhn had devoted herself to getting a stress disability pension because as the mother of two children, she did not want to work evening shifts as other officers do.

"There's no question in my mind that she (Kuhn) was looking for an easy way out where she could stay home with her kids and her husband and be happy," Contessotto said, adding that Kuhn had even boasted to three other officers that she planned to win a stress pension.

Investigation by D.A.

The Huntington Park Police Department is under investigation by Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, who three weeks ago announced that he was prosecuting two former Huntington Park officers for allegedly torturing a juvenile suspect with a stun gun. At the press conference announcing the prosecution, Reiner charged that Contessotto had let his department "get out of control."

While acknowledging that Contessotto reported the stun gun incident to the district attorney's office two days after it happened, Reiner said the lack of action by other officers and supervisors who witnessed or knew of the alleged assault raise questions about the entire department. Reiner said he is investigating whether there was an attempted cover-up as well as the practices of the entire department, which he termed "embarrassing to all of law enforcement."

The department, according to a Times survey, had the highest frequency of brutality claims in the southeast Los Angeles County and Long Beach areas in 1984 and 1985.

In her suit, Kuhn alleges that Contessotto discriminated against her by firing her after he falsely and maliciously accused her of feigning a stress disability.

Both Contessotto and Kuhn acknowledge that her problems within the department began in 1984 when Contessotto transferred her from detective to patrol work. Contessotto said that Kuhn--who had worked almost all of her eight years in the juvenile and detective bureaus--needed wider experience.

In an interview this week, Kuhn contended that she suffers from stress because she did not get "adequate training" when she was transferred to patrol. Kuhn said she received 11 days of training that did not address her needs.

Three Training Courses

Contessotto said that, in 1984, the department sent Kuhn to two police training academies for courses in officer safety, and that in 1985 Kuhn took a third training course in the use of the police baton. It was more training than other officers receive, he said.

Contessotto's firing of Kuhn was upheld in December by the city Civil Service Commission and the City Council. The suit names as defendants the city, the department and Contessotto. The 56-member department now does not have any full-time female officers, police officials said.

In her suit, Kuhn claims that she had to contend with sexist and discriminatory treatment from Contessotto, who overlooked "serious offenses" of male officers.

Kuhn alleged that she was forced to wear a uniform with a skirt rather than pants, and run personal errands and do secretarial work for superiors.

Contessotto replied that once he became chief Kuhn wore a uniform with pants, and that she so often ran her own personal errands on duty that a department joke had Kuhn spending many hours at "Stonewood Superior Court," a reference to the Stonewood Shopping Center in Downey.

Contessotto said Kuhn was "very militant" and displayed in her cubicle the slogan "The best man for the job is a woman." The department closed its only women's restroom and converted it to a locker room because Kuhn complained that there was no women's locker room and that she had to share a bathroom with women prisoners. "We don't have a public restroom in the police station, thanks to Vicki," he said.

Kuhn's discrimination allegations were supported by the testimony of the chief's former confidential secretary during a city Civil Service Commission hearing on Kuhn's firing. The three-day hearing held in November was closed to the press and public, but participants on both sides have discussed the testimony in interviews.

During the hearing, the secretary, Sharon Francis, testified that Contessotto did not refer to Kuhn by name but routinely used a gutter term for females when talking about Kuhn to other officers, said Kuhn's lawyer, Lesley A. Sive of Santa Monica.

Francis last week in discussing her testimony added that Contessotto used obscene remarks "all the time" to describe Kuhn and other women.

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