MPD ex-assistant chief sues ex-town manager - Tucson Local Media: Pima Pinal

MPD ex-assistant chief sues ex-town manager

Barbara Harris claims Reuwsaat violated her rights

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Posted: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 11:00 pm

Aformer Marana police officer with a history of legal battles with the town has filed a lawsuit against the past town manager.

Barbara Harris, a former assistant chief with the Marana Police Department, filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the State of Arizona claiming that former Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat violated her 14th Amendment rights when he fired her on June 20, 2008.

The claim seeks unspecified damages against Reuwsaat, who resigned as town manager on June 25, 2008. He did not want to comment for the story.

The town is not named as a defendant in the suit.

In the claim, Richard M. Martinez, Harris' attorney, writes that Reuwsaat fired the former assistant chief even though he knew that she "performed her duties and responsibilities in a professional and competent manner…"

Martinez also wrote that Harris' employment could be terminated only for cause, and that during her time with Marana her superior was satisfied with her performance.

To bolster the claim, the lawsuit notes that Reuwsaat "asked Police Chief Richard Vidaurri to terminate the Plaintiff…" Vidaurri, according to Harris' lawyer, declined to fire her.

In addition, the allegation claims Harris was subjected to gender discrimination.

"While plaintiff was employed as the permanent Assistant Chief of Police for the Marana Police Department, she was subjected to sustained and unwarranted criticism which was motivated by and based in whole or substantially on her gender, female," the suit claims.

Harris' problems with Marana date back at least to December 2007, when the town paid to conduct a survey of the police department to determine the source of ongoing problems of poor communication and low morale. Survey respondents were critical of Harris' leadership and accused her of not consistently following the chain-of-command.

A month later, the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs union released results of a survey it conducted of the department.

By March 2008, the Marana Police Officers Association issued a no-confidence vote in Harris and former Chief Vidaurri. Harris was placed on administrative leave following the vote.

In May 2008, Reuwsaat presented the town council with a document outlining seven reasons he thought Harris deserved to be fired.

In June 2008, she agreed to a voluntary separation from the department that would have paid her $107,000 in severance and provided a letter of reference.

She backed out of that agreement and on June 20, 2008 filed a lawsuit against the town alleging discrimination. Around the same time, two other female officers filed similar claims against the town.

Harris was fired the same day she filed the lawsuit. The suit was thrown out in August 2008.

In December 2008, the Marana Personnel Action Review Board — a citizen group that reviews and rules on personnel matters — overturned Harris' firing. She returned to work in January 2009. The police union unsuccessfully protested her rehiring.

Though rehired, she was given a new job under the same title of assistant chief. She was put in charge of coordinating emergency management and security efforts.

Her position was one of 10 the council voted to eliminate in the approval of the fiscal 2009-'10 budget. Harris was laid off in June 2009.

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