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Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott being sued for alleged First Amendment violation
By Rachel Revehl • email@example.com • June 30, 2010
Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott is being sued by the International Union of Police Association for an alleged First Amendment violation. The suit was filed in federal court.
According to the union, the sheriff and the agency retaliated against a sergeant for participating in union activity.
Rich Roberts, spokesman for the union, said Sgt. Jonathan Washer's activities were off duty and in no way interfered with his work at the sheriff’s office.
Washer, who worked in the Economic Crimes Unit, was “essentially demoted to a much lesser position,” according to Roberts. Action sheets obtained today by The News-Press show Washer was transferred from Economic Crimes detective sergeant working day shift to a sergeant working patrol on the night shift. His clothing allowance was docked.
Sergeant Stephanie Eller, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, said the move was not a demotion but a transfer.
According to Roberts: “Sgt. Washer’s problems stem from recent activities trying to form a union with the other sergeants in the Sheriff’s office. Those activities were publicly available on his Facebook page and accessible to Sheriff’s Office employees including supervisors. Sgt. Washer communicated with other deputies about a variety of matters concerning their welfare. He told colleagues that they needed assistance from the IUPA in having a voice in their careers on issues affecting their wages, benefits, work conditions, and fair discipline practices.”
Roberts said the action violates Washer’s First Amendment rights of free speech.
Sgt. Washer is seeking reinstatement to his former position, lost wages, and other damages
International Union of Police Associations, AFL- CIO
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Rich Roberts, P.I.O. Phone: 941-487-2560 Ext.111 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Cell: 941-586-3658
Police Union and Lee Co. Deputy Sue Sheriff
As June drew to a close, the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA) and Sgt. Jonathan Washer of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office filed suit against Sheriff Michael Scott & the Sheriff’s Office based on complaints that he was retaliated against for engaging in union activity.
According to papers filed in the U.S. District Court, despite the fact that his union activities were off duty and on his own time and in no way interfered with his duties, Sgt. Washer, a fifteen-year veteran of the agency, was transferred to road patrol.
Despite his sterling record, his five years of specialized training and the fact that he was in charge of the Economic Crimes Unit, he was essentially demoted to a much lesser position. In filing, the IUPA legal team noted that the sheriff had sent numerous emails to deputies criticizing unions. He also reportedly stated in one email that, “In every organizational structure attitude generally translates to altitude.” IUPA attorneys interpret this as a not so subtle message that by opposing a union deputies would increase their chances of promotion.
Sgt. Washer’s transfer will result in the loss of several thousand dollars in pay and uniform allowances each year as well damage to his reputation as a law enforcement officer.
Until this recent retaliation, Sgt. Washer had a top reputation as a deputy receiving numerous commendations and high praise from supervisors. Joining the department in 1995, Washer rose to corporal in five years and within only two more years was made a detective in the Criminal Investigations Division.
That same year, the Sheriff’s office created the Economic Crimes Unit to deal with fraud, identity theft and other new criminal activities generated by the increased use of the internet for criminal purposes and made Sgt. Washer a detective in that unit. By 2007 he was put in charge of all of the detectives in the ECU and in 2008 he became the supervisor for the entire unit ultimately supervising nine detectives and five civilian specialists.
With five years of special training as an economic crimes specialist and the author of articles on economic crimes, Sgt. Washer received numerous awards including the Grand Cordon Award for Exceptional Service. The award was for efforts above and beyond the call of duty. At that time, the ECU was operating with fewer officers than originally assigned and yet consistently made more arrests and completed more cases than the previous larger unit.
In addition, Sgt. Washer received frequent praise from supervisors such as one who said, “[Sgt. Washer’s] knowledge in [economic crimes] is second to none.” All of his evaluations are either above standard or excellent. Reacting to those evaluations another supervisor said, “You and the other unit members continue to do an exceptional job and I realize the important role you play in supervising the unprecedented progress the unit has made during the course of the last year.”
Sgt. Washer’s problems stem from recent activities trying to form a union with the other sergeants in the Sheriff’s office. Those activities were publicly available on his Facebook page and accessible to Sheriff’s Office employees including supervisors. Sgt. Washer communicated with other deputies about a variety of matters concerning their welfare. He told colleagues that they needed assistance from the IUPA in having a voice in their careers on issues affecting their wages, benefits, work conditions, and fair discipline practices.
By the second week of June, he was removed from the Economic Crimes Unit and transferred to road patrol. He was not even allowed to train or update his replacement. In addition, although he was investigating twelve cases and overseeing 500 more, he wasn’t permitted to close his cases or brief his detectives on theirs. That refusal alone puts not only the entire unit at a serious disadvantage but the community as well and may even jeopardize some cases.
Based on evidence cited in the filing, the suit states emphatically that the removal of Sgt. Washer was retaliation for his efforts to provide his colleagues with union representation and to discourage other deputies from engaging in union activities. According to the plaintiffs, of the First Amendment.
With the IUPA’s legal team taking the lead, Sgt. Washer is seeking reinstatement to his former position, lost wages, and other damages.
Originally chartered in 1979, the International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO is the only AFL-CIO chartered labor union that exclusively represents law enforcement personnel. The more than 100,000 law enforcement personnel (one out of every four eligible) represented by the I.U.P.A. are all full time employees of law enforcement agencies ranging from line officers up to first line supervisors as well as civilian employees. The I.U.P.A.’s mission is to protect and advance officers’ wages, benefits and work conditions. Membership includes officers from agencies throughout the United States and in the Caribbean. More information is available at www.iupa.org.
http://www.leecountysheriffsdeputiesforiupa.org/uploads/IUPA_v_Lee_Sheriff_release.pdf Or http://www.leecountysheriffsdeputiesforiupa.org/
I had heard rumors about JW being transferred but I never expected to hear this. Sheriff Scott, why would you spend all that agency $ to train a guy in that specialty unit, only to get ticked off & make yourself & your agency look totally childish, immature, etc., etc...
Your non-supervisory mentality sure is & has shown from day one. You took one of the most trained Sgts from a post in which his experience & training helped shape that unit, which, in my experience, seems to be professionally & productively run.
JW, good luck with your fight.... Hopefully someone will finally bring this Alva-hick down.
All I can say is amen. M.S. has had free rein to do what ever he wants with no one to hold him accountable. If and when the Union passes hold on to your hats this whole dam department is going to blow up. With MS and, GA holding the bag looking lost; well as usual when it comes to cop work that is for those guys. Hey GA stay out of I.A. I think its a conflict of interest your in there more that the Capt.
What, another scotty supporter must have crawled out from underneath their rock!!
What arrogance this Sgt has to believe that he has some sort of "ownership" of any assignment within this agency. Great - you were the man out at the ECU clubhouse with no real supervision. Do you actually believe that you can't be reassigned at the liesure of the Sheriff or other staff??
I've seen this sooo many times within law enforcement. Someone gets an assignment and gets specialized training, thus believing that they are irreplaceable or somehow are "entitled" to stay in that position. Only to act as if their life is over when they suddenly get a wakeup call reminding them that they are as expendable as the next guy.
My friend, you knew of the consequences that come with playing with fire at a powder keg like LCSO. Now grow a pair and deal with it like everyone before you has had to do. Ask your own CID sergeant at your district how fair life has been to him. You think you're any different??
In all reality, there is probably a little more to your story.
Retaliation in Discrimination Cases
Eliminating Fear of Reprisal
By Lisa A. Baker, J.D.
February 2010 | FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
The provisions against retaliation within the antidiscrimination statutes protect covered individuals who engage in a protected activity. A covered individual includes an employee or applicant for employment who has opposed any discriminatory practice by the employer or has “made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding or hearing.”2 Included as well are former employees.3 For example, making disparaging comments and providing an unsubstantiated negative recommendation to a former employee’s prospective employer because of the former employee’s past claim of discrimination could be actionable as retaliation despite the lack of a current employment relationship. The activities covered by the employment-related antiretaliation protections include opposing a discriminatory practice (the opposition clause) and filing a charge of discrimination or testifying, assisting, or otherwise participating in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing addressing a claim of discrimination (the participation clause).
In Burlington Northern, Sheila White complained to her employer that she was sexually harassed by her supervisor. The supervisor was disciplined, and she was removed from her normal assignment and reassigned to a more arduous position with less desirable duties. She sued, claiming that her reassignment was in retaliation for her claim of sexual harassment. Subsequently, there was a dispute at work and White was suspended indefinitely without pay for insubordination. White challenged her suspension and won after her employer concluded that she was not insubordinate and awardApplying these principles to the case at hand, the court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The court noted that a reassignment, such as that which occurred in the White case, could be materially adverse, even though she was reassigned to duties within her job description where the reassignment led to her performing more strenuous and less attractive duties.ed her back pay. White added an additional charge of retaliation for her suspension.
Lee Bushong: Sheriff oversteps bounds on discipline
Lee’s Scott tries to silence dissent
Special to news-press.com
Re: “Union files suit against Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott,” July 1, 2010.
The story of Sgt. Jonathan Washer might be a surprise to some not familiar with the undercurrent of personal politics in the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, but many others know of the unspoken discipline this sheriff uses to silence dissent inside the department.
Sgt. Washer isn’t the first to stand up and say, “Enough!”
Some others have, but so far have been unsuccessful in fighting the sheriff’s embedded political machine.
Hopefully this civil suit will clarify and shed some light on the mistreatment of those who serve and protect our citizens 24/7.
Although Sgt. Eller gave the official statement that this wasn’t a demotion, I would ask this: If you were in a job assignment and had no negative performance noted, what would you think about being transferred suddenly without explanation?
If you were moved from your assignment which had daytime work hours, to another assignment on night-shift, what would you think?
When you forfeit part of your income, would you call that a demotion?
If the only charge at all was your efforts (on your own time) to organize a union to stop the uncalled-for “silent” discipline, demotions, and terminations that have increased with the election of this sheriff, what would you think?
This sheriff is using the same method he complained about being victimized by under the former sheriff.
What this sheriff is doing is trying to silence dissent.
It effects others whom he never considers in his personal vendettas — the families of these upstanding men and women of the office.
The families who support their significant others in their career, who kiss them good-bye and hope they come home safe.
The families who sacrifice family occasions like birthdays and anniversaries for the job. Who, in this case, had a father home at night and now they don’t. A father who now is missing out on family activities during hours he used to be home. I am sure his family considers this a demotion.
The actions that Sgt. Washer seeks to stop with his union efforts aren’t limited to LCSO and have existed in many other law enforcement agencies over the years.
However, with the demand for professionalism in law enforcement, such actions are now consistently seen as out-dated and ineffective tools called “negative discipline.”
These ineffective tools affect morale and the effectiveness of the department as a whole.
I believe the demotions, firings, and poor performance by some over the last six years are indicators of this sheriff’s obsession with control and compliance through threat.
Over the years, some law enforcement professionals have eliminated these practices on their own and others had to step up like Sgt. Washer has to bring them into the 21st Century.
These “negative” tactics are universally dismissed in all law enforcement supervisory courses I have attended.
The message is clear that it is time for a change. Not just a change for sergeants, but a change in the way all LCSO personnel are treated who do things this sheriff personally disagrees with.
Yes, discipline is needed. When it is used properly and applied appropriately, it benefits the employee and the department.
Unions, associations, or whatever the representative group is, are not the enemy here.
A good relationship between such groups and the administration provides a good communication tool for all to disseminate ideas and mediate disputes.
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No matter what you may think about Sgt. Washer. I think he’s pompous and a pain in the ass but he has a point. You think that just because you put on this uniform you lose all your civil liberties. It amazes me how you guys will chase, fight, tase, asp, etc, etc a crack head for robbing another crack head but want stand up for your fellow brother or even more preposterous you selves. Just remember when this vote comes just think of what and where we are as an agency and where we have come from. I think it’s a pretty simple decision stick up for yourselves and each other. Get a real voice; the voice you choose to speak for you. I don’t want to retire just to have to get another job to pay for my medical because the sheriff’s office has mismanaged it. Just think about that. By the way I have heard a certain person state that he still lives in the same house that he has always lived in. He forgot to mention the log cabin in TN he purchased after getting elected.
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