AUGUSTA, Maine — A state panel agreed Monday that a Windham police officer was subjected to sexual harassment by a fellow officer and was retaliated against when she reported it. The ongoing retaliation by her co-workers could threaten her life, according to the female officer’s attorney.
Danielle Cyr of Auburn still works at the Windham Police Department, where she said a male co-worker touched her, urinated in front of her, yelled at her in front of civilians, said grotesque things around her and more.
“[The male officer] started giving [Cyr] the silent treatment and purposely put her in danger on duty by not properly assisting her in the field. He also called her an ‘[expletive]’ and told her she should quit if she could not handle the job,” according to the Maine Human Rights Commission’s investigator’s report.
According to an independent investigation done for the town of Windham, the problems went beyond the harassment Cyr suffered.
“Most people who were interviewed stated that foul language, conversations which included sexual connotations and innuendo, bag-tagging [slapping another’s scrotum] and good-gaming [slapping another’s rear end] were the norm for the entire department,” states the independent report, cited in the commission’s own findings. “This activity went on in front of [supervisors] without correction. Supervision, at times, engaged in the same conduct.”
The officer who had been harassing Cyr since March 2009 was fired in October that year.
But Cyr also claimed that other members of the police department have been retaliating against her since she reported the sexual harassment.
“Her fellow officers treated her differently and started to question her decisions at work. They gave her the silent treatment and shunned her at work and in the community,” the MHRC investigator’s report states.
A sergeant at the department also “constantly peppered her with questions about her complaints and intent to sue the town,” according to the report.
When Cyr would walk into meetings, the room would clear out, according to her attorney, Rebecca Webber. Sometimes when she was on a police call, her supervisor wouldn’t talk to her, Webber said Monday at the commission meeting. This is ongoing, Webber said.
“Danielle’s life depends on her not being alone. Danielle’s life depends on other people being willing to risk their lives to make sure she is not on her own,” Webber said.
The Human Rights Commission investigator recommended that the commission find that there was discrimination due to sexual harassment.
“The town didn’t file any objection to that part of the report,” the town’s attorney, Patricia Dunn told the commission Monday.
The commission members voted unanimously that the town did discriminate against Cyr.
The town, however, denied that Cyr is experiencing retaliation. According to Dunn, the town did the right thing by firing an employee who harassed her and encouraged Cyr to return to work after she took a medical leave.
Cyr did return to work recently, Dunn said.
“We don’t believe there is any basis to believe there was shunning. We don’t feel it’s the case,” Dunn said.
Despite the commission’s investigator’s finding that the town did not retaliate against Cyr, the Maine Human Rights Commission voted 4-1 that the town did retaliate.
In such cases, both parties are encouraged to reconcile and reach a settlement. If conciliation fails, the complainant may file a civil lawsuit in Maine Superior Court, where a binding settlement can include monetary damages.