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Ex-Newport Beach dispatcher claims sexual harassment by chief in suit

May 03, 2013|By Jill Cowan
  • Newport Beach Police Chief Jay Johnson
Newport Beach Police Chief Jay Johnson (City of Newport Beach )

A former Newport Beach police dispatcher claims in a lawsuit that she was sexually harassed by the police chief, discriminated against and wrongfully terminated.

As is common, the city and police department are also named as defendants in the suit, but most of the allegations involve the chief.

The city attorney, police chief and city manager on Thursday flatly denied the complaint filed in Orange County Superior Court.

Christine Hougan alleges that Police Chief Jay Johnson made inappropriate comments and used his position to intimidate her after her husband, a former police officer, testified against department officials in a separate 2008 case.

Hougan was fired Feb. 15, 2012. She had been employed by the city since 1990, working part-time since 2001, according to city officials.

Hougan filed an administrative appeal contesting her termination, which is still pending.

Her husband, former police officer John Hougan, was fired in 2011. He sued the city in July, also alleging retaliation and wrongful termination.

That litigation is pending, City Attorney Aaron Harp said.

Officials said they couldn't comment on the circumstances of either firing because they are personnel matters.

Nevertheless, Harp said, "We don't believe there's any truth in the allegations of Mr. or Mrs. Hougan."

The case in which John Hougan testified was one of several alleging misconduct in a department that officers at the time said was fraught with corruption and cronyism. When Johnson took over as chief almost three years ago, it was seen as something of a new era.

However, John Hougan allegedly faced retaliatory internal investigations during Johnson's tenure, according to his separate lawsuit against the city and the department.

Christine Hougan's suit alleges that after those investigations ultimately led to her husband's termination, she was harassed.

The lawsuit claims that in August 2010, Johnson and Hougan had a "90-minute closed-door meeting," during which he talked about an investigation into her husband's conduct, which allegedly included not following the department's computer-use policies.

During that meeting, a court document says, Johnson "sat within inches of [Hougan] and used his position of authority to intimidate her."

In the months that followed, the document describes similar encounters, where Johnson allegedly "leaned against [Hougan's] console, often standing very physically close to her," and told her, "I like you. I REALLY like you," making Hougan feel "uncomfortable and intimidated."

Hougan allegedly reported the incidents to no avail.

In March 2011, the suit says, Hougan suffered emotional distress after handling a difficult call.

Hougan allegedly "engaged in conduct that was extremely disruptive to the Communications Center" as a result, according to the document.

Instead of "ordering [Hougan] to see a psychologist for a debriefing (as dictated by policy), the department chose to use her symptoms against her 11 months later in her termination," it says.

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