High-ranking Cincinnati police official sues city alleging race & sex discrimination, retaliation

Updated: Jan. 17, 2020 at 12:01 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A high-ranking official at the Cincinnati Police Department accuses the city of Cincinnati in a lawsuit of sex and race discrimination and retaliation.

Captain Bridget Bardua has been with CPD since 1996 and oversees the agency’s Special Investigation Section, which includes the vice unit. She was promoted to captain in 2013, city records show.

Bardua alleges in court records that former police chief Jeffrey Blackwell was pushed out in 2015 by “certain senior level Caucasian supervisory personnel within the Cincinnati Police Department were involved in efforts to force out an African-American Cincinnati Police Chief, with the belief that he would be replaced by a Caucasian male. The senior level Caucasian supervisory personnel were motivated by racial animus toward the Chief.”

Then, her suit states, “certain Caucasian supervisory employees launched an effort to drive out the new Police Chief, who they also disliked on account of his race. (Bardua) was seen as an ally of the new Police Chief. (Bardua) has been a friend and supporter of the Police Chief. These certain Caucasian supervisory employees attempted to discredit the Police Chief through the deceptive and fraudulent targeted at District Five, where (Bardua) was the Captain.”

Blackwell was fired in September 2015 due to unprecedented low morale in the police department and the general sentiment within it that his leadership style created a work environment of hostility and retaliation, city records show.

RELATED | City pays $255k settlement to Blackwell one year after termination | Memo outlines ‘toxic’ work environment before chief firing

A year later, the city quietly changed the termination to resignation in a $255,000 settlement with Blackwell.

Blackwell is forbidden to discuss the settlement or publicly criticize the city. However, his family fired back at Mayor Cranley saying the firing was “racially motivated.” In December 2015, City Manager Harry Black named Cincinnati police veteran Eliot Isaac, an African American, as the city’s new police chief.

Bardua’s lawsuit goes on to allege that she was treated differently than her “similarly situated male counterparts” while she was assigned to be the commander of District Five.

Bardua made similar allegations in a 2018 complaint filed with city officials and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The federal agency dismissed it in August.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws related to discrimination in the workplace.

MORE | EEOC dismisses sex discrimination complaint against top Cincinnati police officials | Cincinnati police leaders accused of sexual discrimination, attempt to oust chief

Bardua’s lawsuit goes on to allege she was the “target of the unusually aggressive, deceptive, disingenuous and at times fraudulent audit of overtime assignments and wages in 2017."

RELATED | Draft audit of CPD overtime: ‘Intentional actions to maximize compensation’ | Prosecutor asks state auditor to review CPD overtime amid ‘illegal’ abuse claims | State audit finds 'systematic’ overtime problem in Cincinnati | Deters: No crime, but some officers purposely maximized their OT

“The Caucasian supervisory employees provided warnings to other Districts/Sections headed by males regarding the preliminary findings of the audit, presumably to allow them to better position themselves to handle the fallout. Plaintiff was not provided the same warning,” Bardua’s lawsuit reads.

It also states:

"(The city’s) purpose in performing and advertising the deceptive and fraudulent audit as it did was to cause (Bardua) to suffer unfair criticism and public scorn, which would then reflect badly by the Police Chief. The deceptive and fraudulent audit caused (Bardua) to come under unfair criticism and public scorn for a period of time that was not significant. As a result, she suffered adverse employment actions including injury to her professional reputation that will limit her opportunities for advancement.

"The supervisory employees widely publicized the results of the audit knowing of its deceptive and fraudulent nature. Among other things, they purposefully and incorrectly implied theft by (Bardua) and misuse of taxpayer funds. In addition, they failed to report that much of the overtime assigned to District Five police officers under (her) command was for private details, the cost of which was completely reimbursed to (the city) by private businesses and organizations.

"An official review of the audit, conducted well after (Bardua) had been “convicted in the court of public opinion” found that (she) had committed no violations or crimes.

"(The city), in the persons of certain senior supervisory employees, was motivated to target (Bardua) by animus toward the Chief of Police on account of his race and because (the city) was seen as one of the Chief’s allies.

"(Bardua) exercised her right to file a charge with the EEOC regarding what she perceived as unlawful discriminatory conduct against her on account of her race and sex. The filing of her EEOC charge is private protected (by law)

"After and because (Bardua) filed her charge with the EEOC, (the city) retaliated against her in multiple ways, including but without limitation, by sharing her residential address with local media outlets for public displays in violation of rules and regulations designed to protect the privacy and safety of members of the Police Department.

“The unlawful threat to her safety caused (Bardua) increased anxiety, fear, and loss of privacy.”

In 2018, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters asked the State Auditors’ Office to review police overtime after allegations in a federal lawsuit against the city and Chief Isaac of “felony abuse” while Isaac turned a blind eye. The lawsuit was filed by Captain Jeff Butler, who at the time commanded the inspection section of the police department.

Butler and his staff conducted the audit, which then-Assistant Police Chief David Bailey also oversaw.

RELATED | Judge: Cincinnati police captain’s federal lawsuit can proceed against city, police chief

A few days after Bardua filed her EEOC complaint, a draft copy of the OT audit was leaked to the media.

Later that week, Bailey was forced to retire or be fired from the police department after more than 30 years, court records show.

Deters announced in early 2019 he and former State Auditor Dave Yost (now Ohio’s attorney general) agreed that, while no crime occurred, some officers took advantage of the system to maximize their compensation.

The state audit of the city of Cincinnati, released shortly after, did not produce any material findings, but state auditors said they found systematic internal controls of overtime at Cincinnati police and fire departments and in public works.

They recommended changes and improvements in how overtime wages and compensatory time is handled.

Bardua lawsuit, which was filed in November, seeks compensatory damages in excess of $25,000, punitive damages, attorneys costs and “all other equity in law or equity.”

An initial court proceeding in the case has been scheduled for Feb. 4 before Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Elizabeth Callan.

Spokesmen for the city of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Police Department and Bardua’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment.

Bardua’s lawsuit doesn’t name the “Caucasian supervisory employees” she alleges treated her differently than her male counterparts or who “widely publicized the results of the audit knowing of its deceptive and fraudulent nature.”

But her EEOC complaint placed some blame with Butler, Bailey, and Assistant Police Chief Paul Neudigate.

At the time her EEOC complaint was filed, in early 2018, an attorney for Bailey and Butler said they “emphatically deny the allegations” in it and they “welcome the EEOC investigation, which they are confident will end in dismissal of her charge."

Another police employee, Melissa Cummins, also has sued the city.

She filed an EEOC similar to Bardua’s in 2018 and has now sued as well after her EEOC was also dismissed.

Her lawsuit, filed in October, alleges race and gender discrimination.

She alleges she was treated differently and less favorably than similarly situated male employees because of her gender and/or her association with the female District Five Commander (Bardua), her lawsuit shows.

Cummins’ attorney declined comment Friday.

MORE | City Manager: Feds should investigate ‘rogue element’ in Cincinnati Police Department | City Manager forces out 2nd in command at CPD: ‘This is so sad,’ mayor says | CPD’s 2nd in command: I was ousted after audit found ‘exorbitant amounts’ of OT | Officer asks FOP to intervene in ‘retaliatory culture’ at CPD

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