NEWPORT BEACH — Four more women claim they were sexually harassed on the job at the Newport Beach Police Department and are considering joining the lawsuit filed Thursday by four current and former department workers, an attorney said Friday.
Of those who came forward Friday, "two are present employees, two are former employees, and all claimed to be sexual harassment victims," said Beno Hernandez, a partner in Law Enforcement Representation Associates, a private firm that represents police officers in employment disputes and helped prepare the lawsuit. "They are afraid, too, of retaliation if they talk."
The lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court on Thursday contends that sexually offensive conduct has occurred at the top levels of the Police Department command structure and that female employees are treated differently than male counterparts.
"Several female employees have left the Newport Beach Police Department as a direct result of sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and the extraordinarily sexually hostile and offensive environment," the suit said.
The suit charges that Capt. Anthony Villa had fondled breasts, made sexual advances, and made suggestive remarks.
The suit also contends that Police Chief Arb Campbell condoned the sexual harassment, and did nothing to stop it.
Bruce Praet, an attorney hired by the city to represent Campbell and Villa, said his clients "unequivocally deny the allegations." He characterized the four women plaintiffs as "disgruntled employees" trying to divert attention from past or current disciplinary problems.
Filing the suit Thursday were records supervisor Mary Jane Ruetz, 43, communications supervisor Margaret McInnis, 39, and officers Rochell Maier, 31, and Cheryl Vlasilek, 28. They are seeking damages in excess of $200,000 each on charges of discrimination in employment based on sex.
The four women who came forward on Friday have not been identified.