NEWPORT BEACH — Four current and former female Newport Beach Police Department employees broke their silence Sunday, telling The Times they are "petrified" of retaliation since they filed a lawsuit accusing a police captain of sexual harassment and their police chief of condoning it.
In interviews attended by their attorney at his Seal Beach office, the women said they believe the Police Department to be an intolerably sexist place to work, and reiterated the lawsuit's charges that the department is "a hotbed of sexual offensive conduct at the top levels of the command structure."
"It's been extremely stressful and very retaliatory," said Officer Cheryl Vlacilek, who has worked her regular patrol shifts since the lawsuit, filed Thursday in Orange County Superior Court, rocked the police station.
"At times, it's very unbearable to work there, and with the powers that be, I worry about what could happen," she said.
The lawsuit, which charges discrimination in employment based on sex, names the city of Newport Beach, Capt. Anthony Villa and Police Chief Arb Campbell as defendants. It seeks damages in excess of $200,000 for each woman.
The four women stressed Sunday that most of their male co-workers do not engage in sexual harassment, and that their suit targets only high-ranking officers.
The civil suit was brought by Vlacilek, 28, records supervisor Mary Jane (Janie) Ruetz, 43, communications supervisor Margaret (Margie) McInnis, 39, and fired Officer Rochell Maier, 31.
Maier attended the interview but declined to participate on grounds that it was inappropriate because she is a captain and commander of her Army Reserve helicopter company and because she is awaiting an Oct. 5 Civil Service board hearing to appeal her firing.
All but McInnis contend in their lawsuit that they were disciplined and fired on contrived charges after rejecting Villa's sexual advances, which they said included touching breasts and making sexually suggestive remarks that included a graphic description by Villa of a pornographic movie.
Vlacilek and Ruetz were reinstated by the Newport Beach Civil Service Commission. Maier is seeking reinstatement. Ruetz is on disability leave, saying she suffers stress from the sexual harassment.
In their lawsuit, the women say they were told to socialize with male officers off duty, especially commanding officers, and to wear short skirts and clothing "desirable" by the men.
Campbell and Villa could not be reached for comment Sunday, but their lawyer, Bruce Praet, has denied the charges and cast the four women as disgruntled.
It was announced last week that Villa is being transferred from patrol captain to captain of administration, but police spokesman Sgt. Andy Gonis said the transfer, effective Nov. 1, is part of a routine rotation.
The four women allege that the sexual harassment started immediately after they began working for the 250-employee Newport Beach Police Department. There are 76 women employees in the department, including seven officers.
"It's been almost unbearable as far as fear and pressure and retaliatory treatment," Ruetz said.