Stanislaus County sheriff's managers violated their own rules in a slow response to a female employee's sexual harassment complaint, an expert testified Thursday.
Modesto police detectives who eventually investigated Lydia Lopez's claim produced a worthless report, the expert said.
"If you look at their policies as a whole, they look fine," said Michael Robbins, who has worked for a federal agency, CBS, the then-California Angels baseball organization and the Los Angeles Police Department.
"The problem is," Robbins said, "(law enforcement managers) didn't follow their policies and procedures, and in my opinion, that's as bad as not having any."
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Lopez, a former sheriff's records clerk, says she suffered retaliation and was forced to quit after rejecting sexual advances in 2004 and 2006 by drug agent Bill Pooley, who afterward became police chief in Riverbank. Lopez became homeless.
Also Thursday, a psychiatrist said Lopez suffered from adjustment disorder, a mental illness apparently brought on about the time she said she was picked on at work.
Managers are trained to immediately pass allegations of harassment or discrimination up a chain of command. But Jackie Bernal, Lopez's supervisor, failed to do so after hearing Lopez's story in March and April 2007, Robbins said.
Modesto detectives formed no conclusion about whether Lopez or Pooley might be lying after conducting a probe, Robbins said. That fails the basic goal of an investigation, he said, reducing its worth to "useless and a waste."
The investigation nonetheless cleared Pooley, who was promoted, but Lopez was repeatedly disciplined before she quit in frustration in August 2007, according to prior testimony.
Sheriff's administrators failed to accommodate Lopez's depression disability in violation of standard practice, Robbins testified.
Other testimony has suggested that managers did not know the nature of Lopez's disability. Robbins said she wasn't required to tell them, but cooperated according to law. "She did everything the county asked her," Robbins said.
One of several lawsuits
Bernal and Lopez hired the same law firm to represent them in separate lawsuits. Bernal and two other female sheriff's employees won a $545,000 settlement just before a scheduled trial last fall for alleged discrimination.
The department has faced a number of legal challenges brought by a total of 10 women, all current or former employees.
Robbins bills clients at a rate of $500 per hour and has spent about 95 hours on the Lopez case, he said. He once wrote an article titled "Attacking the Investigation" and has testified at trials for 12 years, against employers each time, he acknowledged under cross-examination.
Psychiatrist Anthony Reading said Lopez showed significant symptoms of depression, which he traced to early 2007. Her adjustment disorder did not stem from the alleged sexual advances, but from perceived unfair treatment by managers at a job she loved, Reading said.
Testimony is expected to continue this morning in Department 23 at 801 10th St.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2390.