Police sergeant who fought sexism, bias threatens lawsuit
The city of Portland last year presented longtime Portland Police Sgt. Liani Reyna with an award for fighting sexism and discrimination. Now Reyna is threatening to take that fight to the courts — and against the city of Portland.
Reyna, who is Latina and openly gay, became widely known nearly two decades ago when she blew the whistle on Portland's version of SWAT, known as the Special Emergency Reaction Team, or SERT. Her revelations of juvenile and sexually charged hazing activities on the team led to the bureau disciplining 20 officers.
She filed a federal lawsuit over that experience, alleging retaliation and discrimination, only to have a federal jury side with the Portland Police Bureau in 2005. That verdict was upheld by an appeals court in 2008.
Now, just a year after Reyna was one of five women to be publicly recognized with the city of Portland's "We persist" award, it appears another suit could be coming — one that echoes the city's official language in honoring her.
Reyna's complaint against SERT "came at a great price to Reyna," according to the city's official description of why Reyna was chosen to be recognized, published last year by The Oregonian/OregonLive. "Reyna's career was adversely affected in that, among many things, she was passed up for a multitude of specialty positions, was shunned by peers, and was subjected to an incessant amount of complaints by other bureau members."
On March 18, Diane Sykes, Reyna's lawyer, provided the city of Portland with a tort claim notice, essentially a threat of lawsuit, that says much the same thing.
Notices like the one Reyna filed don't always become lawsuits. Many go nowhere, while others lead to pre-court settlements.
The notice contends that, since Reyna's complaint about hazing at SERT, she's been subjected to an "ongoing pattern and practice of severe and pervasive discrimination, on the basis of sex and sexual orientation, race, national origin, marital status and disability, as well as retaliation."
The Portland Police Bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Reyna's legal claim. But her timing was good. Her legal notice was filed even as the bureau released an outside consultant's report calling for more diversity among hires, and also finding that more than half of bureau employees report feeling burned out.
As evidence, Reyna's legal notice provides a chronology of her 25-year career:
• After she resigned from SERT in 2000 and made her complaint, she applied for a series of specialty positions — the auto theft task force, detective, SERT team and the canine unit — but was denied.
• The bureau suspended Reyna in 2010 over her role in the fatal shooting of Aaron Campbell, an unarmed suicidal African-American man whom officers had persuaded to walk out of his girlfriend's apartment. The city claiming she did not delegate tasks or communicate with officers. Reyna says the discipline was unfair.
• The claim also says the city wrongly sided with her ex-spouse, who is also a Portland cop, in disciplining Reyna over what her lawyer termed "false allegations."
• The claim says that starting in 2016, Lt. Ryan Lee — who Chief Danielle Outlaw promoted to assistant chief last year — assigned her a "crushing caseload" while she headed the bureau's emergency management efforts, informing her that she would "burnout and fail."
She filed a complaint about the caseload, then resigned from the position a year ago due to "ongoing harassment" from another superior, according to the claim.
n Last December, her claim said, the bureau informed her she hadn't passed the test to become a lieutenant, a test for which she was interviewed by members of the SERT team.
"Reyna asserts that the denial of promotion to lieutenant is due to her reporting and complaints of ongoing discrimination and retaliation against PPB," wrote her lawyer, Sykes.
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