Lawsuit threatened over WVC PD sexual harassment accusations

Posted at 5:18 PM, Apr 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-08 23:56:56-04

WEST VALLEY CITY -- A police officer has filed a notice of claim with the city, accusing a superior officer of sexual harassment and the police department of not acting quickly enough to deal with it.

In a notice of claim sent to West Valley City on Thursday, Michelle Shepherd, a patrol officer with West Valley City, accuses a lieutenant of sexually harassing her for years by repeatedly asking her to go on dates. Shepherd then alleges that when she said no, she faced retaliatory disciplinary action when Lt. Julie Jorgensen became a supervising officer.

The notice of claim, a prelude to a lawsuit against a government agency, seeks $500,000 in damages from West Valley City over the sexual harassment allegations.

Shepherd claims it began a few months after she was hired to work at WVC PD in 2008 when Jorgensen, then a sergeant, would call her and invite her to participate in activities outside of work.

"There were numerous times she asked me to go out with her," Shepherd said in an interview with FOX 13. "I told her no."

Michelle Shepherd (right) in an interview Thursday with her attorneys, Lindsay Jarvis (center) and Brad Anderson. (FOX 13 News)

Michelle Shepherd (right) in an interview Thursday with her attorneys, Lindsay Jarvis (center) and Brad Anderson. (FOX 13 News)

Shepherd said at the time, Jorgensen was not her supervisor, but would show up on her calls.  Shepherd's notice of claim accuses Jorgensen of touching her inappropriately and making sexual remarks toward her in the presence of other officers over the next five years.

"Once I told her and she, I believe, understood the fact that I did not want to date her, she began writing me up once she became my supervisor," Shepherd said.

Shepherd claims she was disciplined unfairly by Jorgensen for missing a court date, a citizen's complaint that she was rude while responding to a call, and not finishing reports by the end of her shift. Shepherd's attorney, Lindsay Jarvis, said her client made complaints to other superiors, who did not report it.

In September 2015, Jarvis said in the notice of claim she was retained and approached West Valley City's attorney about the accusations. The document states Shepherd rejected a settlement offer, but the police chief initiated an investigation. A letter provided by Jarvis from the chief said Jorgensen had been removed from Shepherd's chain of command while the accusations were investigated.

"Chief (Lee) Russo said he'd conduct an investigation that was going to be concluded in two weeks, indicated he would contact Ms. Shepherd," Jarvis told FOX 13. "To this day, he still hasn't done that and that was six, seven, eight months ago. So to believe this has been taken seriously, all the evidence would indicate otherwise."

Shepherd has also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

A police department spokeswoman told FOX 13 they would not allow Lt. Jorgensen to comment on the accusations, but the agency did issue a statement, saying:

"West Valley City is aware of a claim filed with the EEOC by a West Valley City Police Officer. The EEOC has just begun this examination. The claim stems from incidents alleged to have occurred more than six years ago. These matters were never brought to the city. Several months ago, West Valley City became aware of this matter during the course of a routine employee disciplinary action against the officer suggesting this sexual harassment. The City immediately conducted a full and thorough investigation and found no sexual harassment."

Shepherd is currently facing an internal affairs investigation that Jarvis said she could not disclose the nature of.

Shepherd said she believed WVC PD has not taken the accusations seriously because of her sexual orientation.

"I think they've taken it very lightly. I believe that had it been a male harassing a female, they would have taken action. However, because it's female-on-female, I don't believe they're taking it seriously at all," she said.