Lawsuit by nine San Diego Unified School District police officers alleges hostile work environment
The plaintiffs claim officers were subject to retaliation and mistreatment related to the chief’s favoritism toward an officer he was dating.
A lawsuit announced Aug. 2 alleges that officers in the San Diego Unified School District’s police department were subject to retaliation and mistreatment and that the district’s police chief showed favoritism toward an officer he was dating.
Allegations surfaced earlier this year in an anonymous email to school board members that claimed Chief Alfonso Contreras had been dating Sgt. Jenifer Gruner for years before he assumed the role of police chief.
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Attorney John Gomez, whose firm represents nine district police officers in the litigation, alleged that after Contreras was named chief last year, Gruner began receiving preferential treatment and falsified time cards in order to skip out of work.
Gomez alleged that in one instance, Contreras and Gruner were pictured in a social-media post at a football game in Indiana while they were supposed to be working.
San Diego Unified spokeswoman Maureen Magee said the district “is precluded from disclosing the details of personnel matters and does not discuss pending litigation. All allegations received by the district are taken seriously and investigated.”
SDUSD operates five public schools in La Jolla.
According to Gomez, officers who supported the pair’s relationship were afforded better opportunities, while those who didn’t were mistreated. Gomez claimed that officers took their concerns to SDUSD Superintendent Lamont Jackson but “were ignored completely.”
Gomez said the officers are seeking to have Contreras and Gruner placed on administrative leave and for the district to conduct an investigation into the allegations of time card violations and unequal treatment.
Though nine officers currently are represented in the case, Gomez said his firm expects to eventually represent a majority of the district’s officers.
One of the plaintiffs, Jesus Montana, appeared at a news conference announcing the lawsuit. He said the officers’ concerns were downplayed by higher-ups, leaving them “feeling like they can’t turn to anyone.”
“We are asking [the district] to protect those who go out to serve and protect our students, not to sit back and protect those who serve the chief of police and his club,” Montana said.
— La Jolla Light staff contributed to this report. ◆