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Washoe County sheriff’s candidate files discrimination suit

October 6, 2018

In this on Aug. 29, 2018 photo, Washoe County sheriff candidate Heidi Howe is shown in Reno, Nev. How has filed a federal gender discrimination lawsuit against the outgoing sheriff and his department. Howe, a former sheriff's captain who took early retirement last year after 26 years on the force, says she was repeatedly passed over for promotions illegally in a discriminatory atmosphere that's existed for decades. (AP Photo/Scott Sonner)

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A former Washoe County sheriff’s captain who is running for sheriff has filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the outgoing sheriff and his office alleging she repeatedly was passed over for promotions illegally partly because she is a woman.

Heidi Howe said in the lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Reno she took early retirement last year after 26 years on the force to avoid continued mistreatment.

She’s running for sheriff in November’s election against former chief deputy Darin Balaam.

The current sheriff and target of the suit, Chuck Allen, isn’t running for re-election.

Howe claims Allen retained supervisors and other employees who have a history of misconduct.

She told the Reno Gazette Journal she hopes the lawsuit doesn’t distract from her campaign for sheriff. She says the discriminatory practices have existed for decades.

“I would hope that the public understands,” Howe said. “If I’m not willing to stand up for what’s right and bring transparency to the agency, how can I expect others who come behind me to want to do the same thing?”

Sheriff’s spokesman Bob Harmon said Allen hasn’t seen the lawsuit.

“We deny these allegations and look forward to our day in court,” Harmon wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Friday.

Michelle Bays, spokeswoman for the Washoe County District Office, said her office doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Howe was previously wrongfully terminated from the sheriff’s office on the pretext of being a probationary employee in 2005, the complaint said.

When she was reinstated a year later, several executive staff members retaliated against her, and she was passed over for promotions multiple times, the complaint said.

She later filed another complaint in 2009 after former Sheriff Mike Haley allegedly prohibited her from gaining experience and from being considered for future promotions.

Haley told the Gazette Journal he was unaware of the complaint and emphasized he’s been retired for over five years.

“The culture was very open to everybody, everybody had an opportunity,” Haley said. “I don’t know anything about her complaint or what she filed against Sheriff Allen.”

Howe also claims the department breached a settlement agreement resulting from that complaint, which stated she would have the right to test for any captain job announcement and be promoted if she ranks at the top of the eligibility list.

According to court documents, the department has a tendency to place women in “support” roles that prevent them from gaining experience necessary for advancement.

“I’m not painting this broad brush that it’s everybody in the agency,” Howe said. “But obviously there’s a particular culture that exists, and we need to work together to fix it.”

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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com

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