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Female Dispatcher Sues Newport Police for Harassment : Litigation: She is 11th former employee to file such an action since 1992. Lawyer for ex-chief and a captain scoffs at claim.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Another former Newport Beach police dispatcher has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the city, its ex-chief and a former police captain, charging she was ogled, subjected to unwanted sexual advances and other discrimination while at work.

The lawsuit by former dispatcher Michelle Johnson brings to 11 the number of female Police Department employees who have filed such harassment suits since 1992. Three of 10 women who joined the original suit in 1992 have reached out-of-court settlements with the city. Seven others remain plaintiffs in the case, which is scheduled for trial in February.

In the lawsuit she filed Friday in Orange County Superior Court, Johnson charged that former Capt. Anthony J. Villa Jr. leered and asked if she had a boyfriend on her first day at work in 1989, then touched her and made unwanted advances during her years with the department. She claimed this conduct was condoned by former Chief Arb Campbell.

Johnson also charged that Villa jeered and frightened her by flinging his arm at her when she told him in 1992 she was thinking of going to law school. “Several male colleagues had pursued the same course of education . . . and had not been harassed about it by Villa,” Johnson said in the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

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Villa declined to comment Wednesday. Attempts to reach Campbell were unsuccessful.

But the attorney representing Villa and Campbell dismissed Johnson’s claims as groundless.

“It sounds like she just copied it from from the other (harassment) complaint,” attorney Jeffrey Epstein said. “It’s as baseless a claim as the others. I just don’t think there’s any basis whatsoever for her bringing the complaint.”

City personnel records indicated Johnson quit her dispatcher’s job to go to law school in August, 1992. (Her lawsuit says she left last year.) Johnson did not return calls to her home in Agoura Hills. She represented herself in filing the case.

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Word of the suit took city officials by surprise.

“This is totally out of the blue,” City Atty. Robert Burnham said. “We conducted an extensive investigation, and this name hasn’t come up. . . . We’re in the dark.”

Said Mayor Clarence J. Turner: “I’m surprised she didn’t join the other plaintiffs or step forward before this time. . . . We’ll just have to investigate and see what the grounds of the complaint are.”

The first of the cases against the department was filed in September, 1992, by four female employees of the department, charging that Villa made lewd comments and touched them improperly and that Campbell tolerated the behavior. Six others joined the suit later.

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Since the original allegations, the city has paid $275,000 to 11 current and former employees of the Police Department to settle harassment claims. Eight of those workers received money in exchange for a promise not to join the lawsuit. Three of the employees on the original suit settled with the city this year, including a former dispatcher who accused Campbell and Villa of raping her after a police party in 1981. In the settlement agreements, the two men admitted no wrongdoing but settled in order to avoid the costs of mounting a legal defense.

Villa and Campbell have always denied the charges but were fired separately after a 1992 city investigation into the sexual harassment allegations. They sued the city, charging wrongful termination, and were reinstated last June long enough for the city to retire them with benefits. In exchange, they dropped a civil lawsuit against the city and waived their rights to the civil service hearings they had demanded to clear their names.

A settlement agreement with Campbell at the time said the city investigation produced “no corroborated evidence that Campbell sexually harassed any female employee . . . (or) condoned any specific act of misconduct on the part of any of his peers or subordinates.”


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