The Denver City Council recently settled a lawsuit in which a female Denver Police officer alleged a chief aide to Mayor Hancock had sexually harassed her. The aide, Wayne McDonald, was fired from his position as “Special Assistant to the Mayor” shortly after the allegations surfaced.
Documents obtained by CompleteColorado.com cast significant doubt not only on whether the city was justified in offering a settlement, but also casts doubt on the fairness of the firing of Mr. McDonald.
After being fired, Mr. McDonald filed for unemployment, and his original claim was denied. He later appealed the decision, and the hearing officer in the appeal sided with McDonald while making stark judgements on the nature of the alleged sexual harassment.
Hearing Officer John Barry stated in his decision:
“The claimant [McDonald] and a police officer assigned to the Mayor’s security detail struck up a friendship. The friendship grew stronger over time; however, never became romantic. At some point that was never made clear by the employer, the claimant made a suggestive comment to the officer. The allegation by the employer is that the officer was offended by the comment. The hearing officer is not persuaded.”
Further in the decision letter, Hearing Officer Barry concluded:
In order for there to be sexual harassment, two elements must be present. The first is that the individual must be offended by the behavior and the second is that the behavior has to be so significant as to change the terms and conditions of the claimant’s employment.
The existence of one comment, even if it was offensive to the individual, is not sufficient to alter the terms and conditions of his or her employment. There was no testimony from the police officer indicating any such fundamental change.
The entire document is embedded at the end of this story.
Most notable about the decision by the Hearing Officer was the fact he was able to listen to two recordings made by the DPD officer when calling Mr. McDonald, although McDonald was not aware the calls were being recorded.
McDonald filed a lawsuit last year against Mayor Hancock, City Attorney Doug Friednash, and the Mayor’s spokeswoman, Amber Miller. In the lawsuit, McDonald alleged defamation by the DPD officer, Mayor Hancock, Freidnash and Miller. He also alleged that Hancock and Miller violated various privacy rights by discussing McDonald’s firing with the press. (Read the entire amended complaint filed in federal court here. The name of the DPD officer making the allegation is being withheld by CompleteColorado.com at this time.)
McDonald’s civil lawsuit was dismissed in May of this year by Federal Judge John Kane. In Kane’s ruling to dismiss, he cited the standard of defamation as “a communication that holds an individual up to ‘contempt or ridicule thereby causing him to incur injury or damage.'” Judge Kane then went on to explain the many reasons he felt McDonald’s allegations were without merit. The case is under appeal and a decision could come before Christmas of this year.
An email from CompleteColorado.com to Denver City Council President Mary Beth Susman requesting comment on the situation has not been returned.
Todd Shepherd is the founder and editor-in-chief of CompleteColorado.com. Email him tips at CompleteColorado@gmail.com