Settlement reached in Cincinnati police captain’s discrimination, retaliation lawsuit against city: court docs

Settlement reached in Cincinnati police captain’s discrimination, retaliation lawsuit against city: court docs
Cincinnati Police Captain Bridget Bardua (Photo: Cincinnati Police Department)

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A settlement has been reached in a federal lawsuit filed against the city of Cincinnati by a veteran captain claiming sex and race discrimination and retaliation.

Details of the settlement in the case involving Captain Briget Bardua were not available in court records Friday.

Bardua’s suit sought compensatory damages in excess of $25,000; punitive damages; costs, interest and reasonable attorney fees and “all other relief or equity to which she may be entitled.”

The settlement must be finalized by Aug. 20, records state, and the case was dismissed with prejudice, which means it can never be brought back to court.

We have a request for comment into city officials and Bardua’s lawyer and will update this story once we hear back.

Bardua has been with CPD since 1996 and was promoted to captain in 2013. She was assigned to District Five, where she was the highest ranking officer, a position she “obtained by merit” her lawsuit states.

It alleges the former police chief 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. These senior level Caucasian supervisory personnel were motivated by racial animus toward the Police Chief.”

Her suit states “African-American Police Chief ultimately did leave the Cincinnati Police Department, and he was replaced by the current Police Chief, an African-American chosen from the supervisory ranks of the Cincinnati Police Department.

It also contends “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.”

Cincinnati’s former police chief, Jeffrey 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.

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 suit goes on to allege “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 associate, or ally, of the new Police Chief. (Bardua) had been an ally and supporter of the Police Chief. These certain Caucasian supervisory employees disapproved of (Bardua’s) association with the police chief, in part because (Bardua) and the Police Chief are different races.

“One of the supervisory employees, in his own lawsuit against (the city) raised scandalous allegations about (Bardua’s) alliance with the Police Chief in an attempt to injure and intimidate (Bardua) and to bring her public scorn.”

Bardua’s lawsuit goes on to allege she was the target of the unusually aggressive, deceptive, and fraudulent audit of overtime procedures within the Cincinnati Police Department as a way of discrediting her and, through her, the police chief.

“The audit was deceptive, fraudulent and in bad faith,” the lawsuit states. “The Caucasian supervisory employees attempted to criminalize overtime practices in which they themselves had recently engaged, two of them while they were the Captain of District Five just prior to (Bardua) obtaining that post.

“These certain Caucasian supervisory employees publicized the deceptive and fraudulent audit, as it it were legitimate, in an effort to discredit (Bardua) and, through her, the Police Chief.

“These certain Caucasian supervisory employees attempted to conceal their true motives behind the deception and fraudulent audit by auditing several Districts and Sections of the Cincinnati Police Department.

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

At the time of the audit, Bardua’ suit alleges, she was treated differently than her similarly situated male counterparts.

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

“The Caucasian 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 publicize or report that much of the overtime assigned to District Five police officers under (Bardua’s) command was for private details, the cost of which was completely reimbursed to (the city) by private businesses and organizations.”

The suit goes on to say: “Defendant’s purpose in performing and publicizing the deceptive and fraudulent audit as it did was to cause (Bardua) to suffer unfair criticism and public scorn, which would then reflect badly on the Police Chief.

“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 official, final review took many months to complete,” the suit states.

“Prior to the finalization of the official audit, and as a result of the actions by certain Caucasian supervisor employees of (the city), (Bardua) suffered adverse employment actions including injury to her professional reputation that will limit her opportunities for advancement.”

As a result of the “deceptive and fraudulent audit” and publicity associated with it, the suit alleges:

  • (Bardua) “came under unfair criticism and public scorn for a period of time that was not insignificant”
  • (The city) issued (Bardua) formal disciplinary action ...(that)...”was only recently removed”
  • (Bardua) incurred attorneys fees in defense of possible criminal charges, demotions, and other discipline

“During the height of the publicity over the overtime procedures audit and largely because of it, (Bardua) was removed from her post as captain of District Five. The removal was unwelcomed. (Bardua) strongly preferred her post as commander of District Five to her current post,” the suit reads.

It also caused her significant reduction in compensation.

Bardua made some 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 of 2019.

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

The suit alleges the city retaliated against Bardua after she filed her charge with the EEOC in multiple ways, including 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 by the very public released of her personal residential address 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 and Chief Isaac of “felony abuse” while Isaac turned a blind eye.

The state audit of the city of Cincinnati did not produce any criminal findings, Deters said, but state auditors did conclude there was a “systematic” overtime problem in the police and fire departments and in public works.

The lawsuit that sparked the state to take a closer look at police OT 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 interdepartmental police 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.

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.

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 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.

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