AP NEWS

Lawsuit: Demotion of female Pasadena cop was retaliation

December 6, 2018

A woman’s lawsuit against the city of Pasadena claims she was demoted last year from a high-ranking police position in retaliation for a sexual harassment investigation she initiated against an officer who is the son of recently retired Police Chief Al Espinoza.

In a lawsuit filed Nov. 26 in Harris County 127th District Court, Susan Clifton, described as a 30-year-law enforcement veteran, is seeking monetary damages, saying she lost an assistant police chief position because she prompted an investigation of claims against officer Steven Espinoza.

In a written statement on Dec. 5, Al Espinoza said that the claims of retaliation are false and that Clifton’s demotion to lieutenant occurred when he became police chief in July 2017 because he wanted his own management team to change the direction of the department.

“This was explained to Lt. Clifton, however, she apparently believes she is entitled to the position and disagreed with my decision. As far as her being demoted because of my son’s investigation is a product of her own imagination and conjecture, and is absolutely false,” Espinoza wrote.

City spokeswoman Laura Mireles declined to comment on the lawsuit, which also names the police department as a defendant.

Clifton’s attorney, Andrew E. Lemanski, did not respond to requests for comment by presstime. Steven Espinoza did not immediately return a request for comment.

Clifton’s lawsuit claims that she initiated an internal investigation in February 2017 into claims that Steven Espinoza sexually harassed against another female officer and that the probe resulted in his three-day suspension two months later for violating department policies.

Steven Espinoza was the field training officer for the other officer, to whom he made “inappropriate sexual comments” including that she was going to owe him the performance of a sexual act, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit claims that in June 2017, the month before he was appointed police chief, Al Espinoza, then a lieutenant in the police department, told Clifton that he had decided to replace her with a male lieutenant and asked her to step down, which she refused.

A few days after Mayor Jeff Wagner appointed Espinoza as chief on July 1 of that year, an email with a memo signed by the new chief was sent to all police personnel in the department saying that Clifton was returning to the rank of lieutenant, according to the lawsuit.

The suit alleges that Espinoza, who announced his retirement last month effective Nov. 30 after serving as police chief for almost 1½ years, had criticized Clifton for initiating the investigation against his son.

“During the course of the investigation Lt. (Al) Espinoza thought shift supervisors should have handled the incident informally and that the incident was no more than “cops being cops,” the lawsuit claims.

According to the lawsuit, the female officer who had been targeted by sexual harassment was fired in August 2017 and a man less-qualified than Clifton was chosen by Espinoza to the assistant chief position but was ultimately rejected for the post by Wagner.

But Espinoza wrote that Clifton’s demotion related to his desire for his own management team, which is allowed by city ordinance, and that assistant chiefs “serve at the pleasure of the Police Chief.”

. He wrote the firing of the female officer was due to job performance and unrelated to the investigation.

Espinoza wrote that at the time of the investigation, he was commander over internal affairs and that he recused himself from his son’s investigation and never expressed criticism or opposition to it.

“Lt. Clifton’s lawsuit and her allegations have no merit and there is not one scintilla of truthfulness,” Espinoza wrote.

Steven Espinoza began working for the police department as a police services officer in 2007 and graduated from the Pasadena Police Academy in 2012, according to a Facebook post from the police department.

The lawsuit describes Clifton as having been the only assistant chief in the department’s history and the only one to ever be demoted. It claims the defendants are “negative toward women” and says that only 6 percent, or 16, of the department’s 256 sworn officers are female.

“The discrimination and harsh treatment of females at the plaintiff’s place of employment is not new,” according to the lawsuit’s complaint. “Women are taught to overlook and minimize the discrimination they face. This includes discrimination based on not acting like a ‘proper woman,’ whether perceived or real.”

Clifton is seeking monetary damages of more than $100,000 and less than $200,000.

Jjones@chron.com

AP RADIO
Update hourly