The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday that it reached a consent decree in Deputy Julie Thobaben’s discrimination complaint against the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department.
Under the terms of the consent decree, the county must promote Thobaben to detective sergeant within three years, increase her current pay rate to that of a detective sergeant, and pay her $141,640 in back pay with interest, attorney’s fees and compensatory damages.
Thobaben, a 17-year veteran with county law enforcement, accused the county of failing to promote her from patrol officer to detective sergeant in March 2006 because she is a woman.
In July 2006, the Wisconsin Equal Rights Division (ERD) began investigating Thobaben’s charges. Based on the ERDD’s findings, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission believed there was sufficient evidence that discrimination had occurred. After an unsuccessful attempt to conciliate the matter, the EEOC referred the case to the Justice Department.
In June 2011, the Justice Department filed its complaint against the county in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
According to the Justice Department’s complaint, the county denied Thobaben a promotion to detective sergeant because she is a woman. Although Thobaben was the most qualified applicant for the position, the county promoted a male patrol officer instead. At the time, the male officer was not eligible for promotion as a result of discipline the county had imposed upon him.
The county argued that it lawfully denied Thobaben’s promotion because its nepotism policy prohibited it from making Thobaben a detective sergeant since she would supervise her husband, Deputy Clint Thobaben, who is a patrol officer.
However, the Justice Department noted that patrol sergeants and not detective sergeants have direct supervision over patrol officers.
The Justice Department also found that the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department had not applied its nepotism policy to at least eight other male employees who supervise immediate family members.
Under the terms of the consent agreement, the county must also review and amend its discrimination and nepotism policies. The county must also conduct training of its personnel regarding these policies.
“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,” said U.S. Attorney James Santelle.