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April 26, 12

NEWS / Justice Department Settles Lawsuit Alleging Sex Discrimination by Waupaca County, Wisconsin

The Justice Department today announced that it has reached a consent decree with Waupaca County, Wis., to resolve allegations that the county discriminated against an employee by denying her a promotion because of her sex.

The Justice Department filed its complaint against the county in June 2011 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. The complaint alleged that the county violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it failed to promote a female patrol officer in its sheriff’s department to sergeant because of her sex. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin and religion.

According to the Justice Department’s complaint, the county denied Julie Thobaben a promotion to detective sergeant in its sheriff’s department because she is a woman. Although Ms. Thobaben was the most qualified applicant for the position, the county promoted a male patrol officer instead, even though, at the time, he was not eligible for promotion as a result of discipline the county had imposed upon him. The county argued that it lawfully denied Ms. Thobaben the promotion because its nepotism policy prohibited it from making Ms. Thobaben a detective sergeant since, in that capacity, Ms. Thobaben would supervise her husband, who is a patrol officer at the county sheriff’s department. However, the county has not applied its nepotism policy to at least eight other male employees who supervise immediate family members.

Under the terms of the consent decree, which must still be approved by the federal court, the county must promote Ms. Thobaben to the position of detective sergeant within three years and increase her current pay rate to that of a detective sergeant. The county must also pay her $141,641.10 in monetary relief, including backpay with interest, attorney’s fees, and compensatory damages. In addition, the county must review and, if appropriate, amend its equal employment opportunity and nepotism policies in order to protect its employees from discrimination and retaliation. The county must also conduct training of its personnel regarding these policies.

“Title VII ensures that women in the workplace have the right to be considered for promotion without regard to their sex, and the Department of Justice will not tolerate discrimination in employment on the basis of sex,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division is pleased that Waupaca County will review and amend its policies, provide training to its employees regarding the requirements of Title VII, and provide Ms. Thobaben with the relief to which she is entitled.”

James L. Santelle, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, stated: “Our uniform, focused enforcement of Title VII, including its prohibition on gender-based discrimination in the employment setting, continues to be a significant priority within our diverse affirmative civil docket. The announcement today of the settlement of the claims by Ms. Thobaben not only ensures that she will be compensated monetarily for past discrimination but that she will be serving the people of Waupaca County as a detective sergeant based upon her merit-based qualifications for that position.."

The continued enforcement of Title VII has been and remains a priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.usdoj.gov/crt/ .




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