WEST UNION – A West Union police officer who said she was forced to resign after filing sexual harassment complaints against the town’s police chief is taking the city to court.
Attorneys for Sierra Fox filed a lawsuit against the city of West Union, Chief Paul Becthold and City Administrator Nick McIntyre on Tuesday in Fayette County District Court.
The suit alleges violation of Fox’s civil rights through sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, and is seeking unspecified compensation, injunctive relief and attorney’s fees.
The city hasn’t filed a formal response to the suit.
Fox began working for the city police department in July 2015 and became the agency’s K-9 handler in 2016. The suit alleges that after Becthold was hired as chief in September 2017, he used derogatory terms to describe her when talking to other officers, permitted other another officer to speak negatively about her and told degrading jokes about women.
The suit also alleges the chief endangered Fox’s life when he told other officers not to assist Fox when she called for backup while out on calls.
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The suit recounts a May 2018 phone call Fox received from another officer who had been celebrating his 21st birthday with the chief. The officer allegedly made vulgar sexual comments to Fox, and when the chief was handed the phone he laughed and told her not to worry about it, according to the suit.
That officer was later promoted to the rank of lieutenant despite only having been with the department for about a year, the suit states. At the same time, the chief promoted Fox to sergeant, allegedly so she wouldn’t complain about the other officer’s promotion.
The chief also told Fox to take down social media posts that showed her wearing a swimsuit or displayed her tattoos when male officers didn’t have to, according to the lawsuit.
Fox’s suit alleges that before she took control of the city’s K-9 Xena, the dog was housed at the police station in inhumane conditions that included being kept in a small plastic pet kennel where she defecated and urinated on herself and chewed on the enclosure until her mouth bled. Xena also wasn’t receiving enough food and was underweight, the suit alleges.
Fox submitted complaints about the chief to the mayor and city’s police committee and filed a union grievance in January 2019 and a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission in February 2019.
The suit alleges the city didn’t investigate the complaints and instead retaliated against her, ultimately telling her in April to resign or face termination.
Fox is currently a part-time officer with the Marquette-McGregor Police District.