Unmistakable irony surrounds the saga of the Salt Lake City Police Department.
The man accused of sexually harassing three female subordinates, Deputy Chief Rick Findlay, has full retirement, at $53,000 a year, after six months of full-salaried administrative leave.
Chief Chris Burbank, who no one has accused of sexual harassment, now is unemployed, forced to resign over a minor point in a personnel struggle
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that the mayor, despite making it a major media issue one year after it was resolved, insists is not associated with election year politics.
While in the background of this City Hall power struggle, almost imperceptible, is the specter of sexual harassment in the workplace, which remains a vexing problem in the supposedly enlightened 21st century.
This is, we are told, was the emphatic reason behind Mayor Ralph Becker forcing a police chief he still calls an “icon for justice,” to step down: Sexual harassment will not be tolerated in city government.
And yet we have yet to hear whether the city intends to change personnel rules that required the three women to submit their grievances to the very supervisor they claimed was abusing them, because he was the chief deputy in charge of Internal Affairs.
This, the women told the Deseret News in May, is the reason they want to pursue the case. The city should have an independent process in place for reviewing such claims.
That seems to have been lost in the high-level war of words. Experts likely would tell us not to be surprised.
As Patricia Barnes, author and workplace discrimination expert, wrote for the blog abusergoestowork.com, “Sexual harassment is a major problem in all workplaces but it is extremely difficult – if not impossible – for victims to hold abusers accountable for their illegal conduct.”
And the process can be “difficult to win and very costly.”
Winning, one presumes, would be to exact a punishment that fits the crime. In this case, the three women accused Findlay of showing people images of two of the female officers in bikinis and a nude image he claimed was of the third one — photos he reportedly took from a cell phone without permission.
But the snickers and ogles were only part of what they say they endured. In a notice of claim against the city, one of them alleges she was passed over for a promotion because she had earlier refused to have a personal relationship with Findlay. Another resigned after Findlay brought a disciplinary hearing against her. As the three women told the Deseret News, they have heard male officers talk about how they were to blame for Findlay’s resignation.
In a profession where women have to prove their toughness, they knew that standing up to these alleged acts of harassment would open them to humiliation and a loss of reputation.
Despite all the noise, the dispute that led to Burbank’s forced resignation had nothing to do with whether Findlay should be fired. As the chief said in his resignation statement, neither the mayor’s office, the Human Resources department, the Civilian Review Board nor the City Attorney’s office felt the claims rose to that level.
No, it centers on this: Once an internal review substantiated the claims late in 2013, the city faced limited options. Findlay could retire safely in June of 2014 with full benefits, regardless. The mayor wanted him demoted in the meantime, reducing his salary from about $106,000 per year to about $64,000 for six months, after which he could collect a retirement that would not be diminished one cent. The chief wanted him placed on administrative leave. That would allow him to collect a full salary for those six months, but it would remove him from the workplace, where he might be a disruption. It also would keep him from appealing the demotion, which could drag out the process.
The chief defied the mayor, who waited until last week to give Burbank the option of publicly reading an apology, written for him, or to turn in his badge.
It was high drama; a great spectacle for reporters. But it probably didn’t do much to reassure other employees who may be wondering whether to report abuse