WASHINGTON — The Justice Department today announced it has filed a lawsuit alleging that Waupaca County, Wis., discriminated against Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department patrol officer Julie Ann Thobaben because of her gender when it failed to promote her. The suit was filed in federal district court in Wisconsin.
Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals based on their race, color, gender, national origin or religion when making employment-related decisions, including decisions about whether to promote, hire or fire someone.
Thobaben is a well-regarded, 16-year veteran of the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department. The Justice Department’s complaint alleges that in March 2006, Waupaca County unlawfully discriminated against Thobaben when it failed to promote her from patrol officer to detective sergeant because she is a woman. According to the complaint, Waupaca County managers conceded that Thobaben was the most qualified candidate for the promotion. Despite her superior qualifications, the county claimed it could not promote Thobaben because Thobaben’s husband works as a patrol officer at the sheriff’s department, and promoting Thobaben would violate the county’s nepotism policy. Although the policy prohibits employees from supervising their relatives, the complaint alleges that the county has ignored this policy on at least 10 other occasions when it permitted males to supervise their family members. Also, months after denying Thobaben the promotion, Waupaca County took the position, in a labor dispute, that detective sergeants do not supervise patrol officers.
“Gender discrimination in employment will not be tolerated,” said Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “This lawsuit should send a clear message that the department will take necessary action to eliminate and remedy the effects of gender discrimination in our public sector workplaces.”
The case stems from a referral by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission following that agency’s investigation. The case will be handled by the Civil Rights Division in cooperation with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.