NEWPORT BEACH — Four current and former female Newport Beach Police Department employees plan to file a lawsuit today contending they were sexually harassed by a police captain and that the police chief "condoned" the behavior, The Times has learned.
In a lawsuit to be filed in Orange County Superior Court, the women will claim Capt. Anthony Villa touched breasts, made sexual overtures and suggestive remarks--including detailed descriptions of a pornographic movie--and that Chief Arb Campbell knew of the harassment and did nothing to stop it.
They were told to socialize with male officers off-duty, especially commanding officers, and to wear short skirts and clothing "desirable" to the men, the lawsuit states.
Campbell and Villa could not be reached, but their lawyer said they "unequivocally deny the allegations."
"In a generic sense, because I haven't really seen these allegations, they have made an unequivocal denial of any allegations of individualized or a prevailing environment of sexual harassment or retaliation within the Newport Beach Police Department," said Bruce Praet, the city-hired attorney who will represent the chief and captain in the matter.
"Although we're not commenting on any individual, certainly there is the appearance of disgruntled employees . . . who may be subject to disciplinary matters (who) may be creating diversionary tactics."
City Manager Kevin Murphy also denied the allegations, but said the city has hired a law firm to investigate the women's complaints.
Only one of the plaintiffs in the suit, communications supervisor Mary Jane Ruetz, could be reached Wednesday and in a brief interview, she said, "My attorney is filing this lawsuit. . .and it's really difficult to do, because I'm terrified. But I've been sexually harassed and discriminated against because I'm a woman, and I had no other choice."
The lawsuit states, "Not only are females treated differently from male employees in many important respects, but some female employees who are intimately involved with high-ranking officers receive favored treatment in contrast to other female employees who refuse to 'go along to get along.' "
"This is not not exactly the Year of the Woman at the Newport Beach Police Department," said Steven R. Pingel, a Seal Beach attorney representing the women.
The plaintiffs--Ruetz, 43, records supervisor Margaret McInnis, 39, and Police Officers Rochell Maier, 31, and Cheryl Vlacilek, 28--are seeking damages in excess of $200,000 each for discrimination in employment based on sex.
Ruetz and Vlacilek claim they were fired after formally complaining of harassment and discrimination to superiors. But the city's Civil Service review commission reinstated both women.
Maier was fired, the lawsuit states, on the same grounds and will seek reinstatement at an Oct. 5 hearing before the commission.
"Clearly it is the city's policy to not tolerate these kinds of activities, and it was spelled out in a City Council resolution in 1987," said Murphy. "I don't believe the allegations will be sustained, I don't believe that department is a hostile working environment, from what I know at this time."