City fails to notify taxpayers it spent nearly $1M defending discrimination lawsuit in addition to $2.5M settlement

Posted at 4:44 AM, Jan 26, 2018

The City of Colorado Springs announced a settlement in a 3 year long discrimination lawsuit filed by 12 female police officers against the department.

On Jan. 19, the City agreed to pay nearly $2.5 million to the officers after a federal judge ruled a one-size fits all fitness exam discriminated against women.

The City says the $2,471,350 settlement amount will be paid by Starr Indemnity, the City’s excess liability insurance carrier. Plaintiffs’ attorneys will receive $882,054.42 and the remaining amount will be split among the officers.

“These officers sacrificed a lot by signing on to this lawsuit and showed a lot of courage of standing together for what they believed is right,” Donna Dell’Olio with Cornish & Dell’Olio, P.C. said.

In 2015, female officers sued over a one-size fits all fitness test. Nearly 40 percent of the female force over the age of 40 initially failed. As a result, officers say they were stripped of their uniforms, taken off the streets, placed on desk duty and threatened with termination.

“Physical fitness is a part of law enforcement and we at no time said that there should not be a level of fitness for law enforcement officers,” Maggie Santos said.

Santos is one of the plaintiffs. She and other offers who joined the lawsuit argue the test should be based on age and gender. Senior District Judge Richard P. Matsch sided with the officers.

“The very young (officers) don’t understand what law enforcement can be and will be for them in 20 years,” Santos added.

Santos says contrary to public opinion, law enforcement often involves social work and talking with people—not chasing them.

Chief Investigative Reporter Eric Ross asked, “Out of your 24-year career with CSPD, how many times did you have to get physical with someone?”

“I’ve maybe had four foot pursuits and that was when I was very young,” Santos said. “I chased because that’s what people think you should do. What you should actually do is use your brain, set up a perimeter and use your resources.”

News 5 Investigates checked with multiple police agencies in Colorado and the nation—we couldn’t find a single department that implemented a one-size fits all exam.

Police Chief Pete Carey has refused to go on-camera and explain the fitness exam. Also, multiple requests filed over the years for information related to the exam was denied under the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act.

In the lawsuit, the women also allege Thor Eells, a former police commander referred to women on several occasions as “smurfs” or “Shamu” the killer whale.

News 5 Investigates reached out to Eells via email Thursday morning for comment, but did not receive a response.

In addition to the $2.5 million settlement, News 5 Investigates uncovered the police department paid more than $960,000 to Ogletree Deakins, an outside firm hired to fight the case.

More than $40,000 was spent in the 6 months after the judge ruled in favor of the officers—information the City and police department “conveniently” omitted from this press release.

News 5 Investigates has been reaching out to the Colorado Springs Police Protective Association for comment since Friday.

The CSPPA defended the fitness test in an on-camera interview back in 2015.

Sherryl Dillon, the new executive director for CSPPA told News 5 by phone Thursday that the association has “no comment” and to contact Lt. Howard Black, the spokesperson for the police department.

“Due to the sensitive legal and employment issues related to this case, CSPD is unable to accept interview requests,” Lt. Black said.

News 5 asked for clarification on what the employment and legal issues were since the case is closed, but Lt. Black ignored our inquiry.

News 5 also invited Chief Carey to sit down and talk with us in-studio about the exam and settlement, but he did not show up or respond.

A police recruit starts at around $51,000 a year. The nearly $1 million spent on legal fees alone would have been enough money to hire close to 19 full-time officers.