The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office has settled a 2013 employment dispute involving a former deputy.
The settlement reached in June includes a $158,529 payment to Patricia McEachern, who was employed as a Montezuma County patrol deputy from March 28, 2011 to Nov. 12, 2013. The agreement called for the sheriff’s office to reflect that McEachern resigned, and was not terminated.
The settlement doesn’t include any admission of wrongdoing by either party. The settlement included an additional $14,000 for attorney fees.
Documents obtained through public-records requests reveal that McEachern was fired 12 days after she filed a discrimination complaint against the office.
A termination letter dated Nov. 12, 2013 from then-Lt. Adam Eastman outlined numerous department violations occurring from January 2012 through September 2013. Eastman wrote that McEachern had been reprimanded for incidents including speeding, an officer-involved shooting and an alleged phone theft.
“I am concerned as this behavior appears to show a pattern of failing to respond to remedial training and previous disciplinary actions,” Eastman wrote. “Furthermore, this demonstrated pattern of behavior, poor choices, poor driving, and lack of sound officer safety decisions continues to put the community, other law enforcement officers, and yourself at risk.”
On Nov. 26, 2013, Denver attorney Michael Lowe wrote former Sheriff Dennis Spruell on McEachern’s behalf, requesting a meeting to discuss her termination. Lowe also provided potentially mitigating information relating to incidents listed in the termination letter.
For example, the speeding incident in January 2012 referred to McEachern’s response to a call about a man behaving violently in the presence of children, Lowe said. He also pointed out that both the sheriff and district attorney cleared McEachern of wrongdoing connected to the shooting incident.
In his letter, Lowe seemed more disturbed that his client’s termination was also attributed to a claim that she violated department policy by filing a complaint with county officials. Lowe wrote that reason for termination was “clearly retaliatory.”
“… There is every indication that Deputy McEachern’s concerns of discrimination and retaliation are legitimate and factually supported, and she has every right under federal law to bring those allegations forward without retaliation from her employer,” Lowe wrote.
Eastman explained in the three-page termination letter that McEachern’s decision to file her complaint with county officials violated department policy, adding her action was equivalent to “spreading rumors.”
McEachern reportedly made an informal complaint to her immediate supervisor regarding sex discrimination on Aug. 9, 2013. She followed with a written complaint in October.
“It is my desire to resolve this situation through a formal investigation into the treatment of me as an employee of the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office as my informal complaints have only resulted in further harassment,” McEachern wrote on Oct. 25, 2013.
In that letter, McEachern claimed that she had been subjected to disproportionate disciplinary actions because of her gender. She also claimed that she was the target of an offensive cartoon that was circulated in the department.
“I love being a deputy, and I just want to be allowed to do my job to the best of my ability and free from gender discrimination, disparate treatment, and a hostile environment,” McEachern concluded.
After filing a formal complaint with county officials on Nov. 1, 2013, McEachern submitted a complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Dec. 23, 2012. In that complaint, McEachern alleged that she was subjected to harassment and discrimination. The complaint also alleged that she was terminated despite performing satisfactorily while on duty.
Despite continued department reprimands against McEachern, she also received multiple pay raises while employed as a Montezuma County deputy. When hired in 2011, McEachern was paid $19.71 per hour. By the time she was terminated in 2013, she had received two pay raises, and earned $20.71 per hour.