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City to Aid Police Chief in Harassment Suit

October 14, 1998|HARRISON SHEPPARD

The city will defend Police Chief James Cook from a lawsuit alleging he sexually harassed a city employee after she sought to end their relationship.

Information Services Director Maureen Tighe filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court this month, naming Cook as well as Mayor Frank Fry Jr. and City Council members Tony Lam and Margaret Shillington as defendants.

In the lawsuit, Tighe said she and Cook began dating soon after she started working for the city in 1988. A few years later, as the relationship declined, she alleged, the police chief began criticizing her work to others and threatening to cut her department out of the police budget.

On Monday, the council voted to pay for Cook's defense in the lawsuit. The two members not named in the suit voted to defend their council colleagues, who abstained from that vote.

Tighe is seeking an end to the alleged harassment and unspecified monetary damages.

"She was looking for peace in her work environment," said Tighe's attorney, Michelle Reinglass. "She wanted to be treated with respect. She still wants that. She wanted the harassment to stop and the retaliation to stop."

Previous complaints and appeals by Tighe to the city, its merit commission and the City Council were denied.

Cook denied wrongdoing.

"This was investigated by the city attorney," Cook said in an interview. "I was cleared by the city manager. . . . The merit commission subsequently found it unwarranted and unfounded. That was subsequently upheld by the City Council."

Cook asked the council May 12 to pay $29,393 in legal expenses incurred during the city investigations, but his request was denied.

Deputy City Atty. Kimberly Hall Barlow said Monday the lawsuit poses a different situation, and the city is obligated to defend him. The city intends to hire outside counsel to handle the case.

Hall Barlow declined to comment on the suit, other than to say, "the city believes the case is defensible."

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