Judge OKs lawsuit against department

Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay likely will appeal ruling to let female officer's 2004 sex harassment case go forward

April 07, 2006|By MELISSA HARRIS | MELISSA HARRIS,SUN REPORTER

Howard Police Chief Wayne Livesay is expected, as early as today, to appeal a federal judge's decision to let a female police officer's sexual harassment suit against the department go forward, according to a source familiar with the case.

If allowed to stand, the judge's ruling could force the county to offer a settlement or risk having potentially embarrassing testimony revealed during a trial, which is scheduled for February.

Susan Ensko filed suit in 2004 alleging that Chief Wayne Livesay and the county tolerated a hostile, men's "locker-room" mentality, jokes about off-hours "bull roasts" involving strippers and retaliation against women who complained.

The 17-year veteran, who has served in the narcotics, auto-theft and community policing divisions, is seeking at least $500,000 in damages, lawyer's fees and a judge's order stopping what she alleges is improper behavior. The suit is similar to one filed by retired Cpl. Linda Freeman, who won $115,000 in a settlement in 2004.

In his March 22 ruling denying Livesay and the county a summary judgment dismissing the case, U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. said, "There is a genuine issue whether such harassment was so widespread as to be a policy or custom of the HCPD."

Livesay's spokeswoman, Sherry Llewellyn, Virginia W. Barnhart, Ensko's attorney, and Carol Saffran Brinks, a senior assistant Howard County solicitor, all declined to comment yesterday because litigation is pending.

County lawyers had argued that Ensko's allegations were old and "neither severe nor pervasive." The county also argued that Ensko failed to "avoid the harm" or correct the problem, that Livesay's rank entitled him to immunity and that Livesay "took appropriate action when he learned of the abuse."

The judge, however, found enough evidence of a "hostile work environment," "retaliation" and "deliberate indifference" to her claims to allow the case to move forward.

Ensko had testified on Freeman's behalf during an internal affairs investigation into similar accusations in 2001. Ensko alleges that colleagues began calling her "a snitch" and accuses her supervisors, Sgt. Paul Steppe and Sgt. Bill Donahue, along with Officer Perry Sauers, of making sexually derogatory comments.

She then was "reassigned to work with the same officer [Sauers] she had complained about," the suit alleges. Ensko said that Livesay dismissed her fears of being ostracized during an October 2003 conversation with him.

"Although Livesay asserts that he responded appropriately, Ensko has provided evidence that, despite her complaints (and those of Linda Freeman) ... no action was taken against Sauers. ... Sgt. Donahue was demoted, but not dismissed ... and Steppe was charged with misconduct, but no disciplinary action has been taken to date," Quarles wrote.

The judge sealed many of the case's pretrial documents, including documents and depositions describing the outcome of internal affairs investigations, because they included information from officers' confidential personnel files.

In a June ruling, Quarles removed Sauers and Steppe as defendants in the case, deciding that they could not be held "individually liable" under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Quarles applied the same logic to Livesay, but he remains a defendant in the case because Quarles ruled that he could be held liable as a supervisor.

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Laura Cadiz and Larry Carson contributed to this article.

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