Trial begins for Burbank police officer who claims harassment, retaliation

Burbank Police Officer Cindy Guillen finds herself in court as a last resort, after complaints of gender and ethnic harassment were not investigated, prompting her lawsuit, her attorney said Monday.

In his opening statements to jurors in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Guillen’s attorney, Solomon Gresen, promised the full story behind his client, from humble beginnings, to fulfilling her dream of becoming a police officer in Burbank.

Gresen described Guillen as an “outstanding police officer.”

“There is no question about the caliber of her work,” Gresen said, adding that Guillen serves as the public information officer to the Spanish-speaking community.


Hired in January 2000, Guillen was the first Latina hired by the department, Gresen said.

Guillen also alleges she faced discrimination among her peers for being pregnant and was subjected to harassment for getting married.

Sgt. Tracy Sanchez, following a heated conversation with Guillen, allegedly told her to shut up or he would bend her over and sexually assault her, Gresen said.

Sanchez allegedly made the comment in front of Sgt. Glen Sorkness, who failed to report it, Gresen said.


Sorkness later engaged in “stalking-like behavior” and on multiple occasions allegedly asked Guillen out, Gresen said.

“The city doesn’t follow its on rules,” he told jurors.

Sorkness retired before any discipline was imposed and has since died, Gresen added.

The department’s failure to discipline Sorkness affected not only Guillen, but how the department saw her, Gresen said.

After Guillen became pregnant in November 2007, former Police Chief Tim Stehr allegedly told her she needed to control her weight gain during her pregnancy. Another supervisor allegedly said she needed to maintain a proper height-to-weight ratio.

Meanwhile, the city’s defense attorney, Linda Savitt, sought to dispel what she painted as Gresen’s exaggerated portrait of Guillen.

Guillen is “not the first female officer or the first Hispanic officer” at the department, and jurors would see there were plenty of women in the department, Savitt said.

And there are several women in the department with children, Savitt added.


In regard to the alleged Sanchez comment, Savitt said there were inconsistencies in Guillen’s recollection of the comments.

Sorkness was watching all his subordinates more closely after rookie Matthew Pavelka, whom Sorkness supervised, died in the line of fire, Savitt said.

An investigation of Sorkness found it was not harassment or discrimination, rather that he “failed to have a proper relationship with officers,” Savitt said, downplaying the importance of the result of the investigation.

“Sorkness was going to be disciplined, but he elected to retire,” Savitt said. “He was devastated by Pavelka’s murder.”

The comments made about Guillen’s height-to-weight ratio were made to all officers supervised by that same lieutenant, Savitt said, adding that the department was focused on maintaining fitness standards.

-- Maria Hsin, Times Community News

Twitter: @mariahsin