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March 1, 2024

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Vancouver police officer files suit alleging sex discrimination

Lawsuit claims she has been repeatedly passed over for promotions

By , Columbian politics reporter

Another gender discrimination lawsuit was filed against the city of Vancouver last month, this time by a police officer, alleging discrimination based on sex, harassment and retaliation.

Julie Ballou, an officer with the Vancouver Police Department, filed the suit Jan. 3 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. Her suit follows one filed in November 2017 against the city by Vancouver Assistant City Attorney Debra Quinn, who alleged gender discrimination, retaliation, First Amendment violations, negligent supervision, equal protection violations, breach of implied contract and outrageous acts. Quinn’s case is ongoing.

Ballou names Police Chief James McElvain and the city as defendants.

She previously filed two tort claims in September and November 2018 with similar allegations.

In her complaint, Ballou outlines a pattern of ongoing discrimination with regard to promotions. She alleges being passed over for a sergeant’s promotion three times between June 2018 and January 2019.

“This failure to promote and discriminatory discipline is because of her sex and because of her association with her ex-husband, a former Vancouver police officer,” the suit states.

Ballou has worked for the Vancouver Police Department since June 2005 and took the civil service test to be considered for sergeant in the fall of 2017. She said she initially ranked third on the eligibility list and was the only female in the top 10.

The city requires the police chief to consider the three top-ranked candidates on the eligibility list when positions open up. Ballou said in practice, however, McElvain promotes the top person on the sergeant, corporal and lieutenant lists, “because of a specific occasion at a previous employer when he was passed up for a promotion by someone below him on the list,” the suit says.

The two officers ahead of Ballou on the eligibility list were promoted in December 2017 and February 2018, the suit states. Ballou said she has been the top candidate on the sergeant list since February 2018. But in June 2018, when a sergeant position opened up, McElvain, for the first time, strayed from his hiring practice and promoted someone other than the candidate at the top of the list, the suit alleges.

Ballou said she was passed over for a promotion again in October 2018 and last month.

The most recent promotion was only filled, Ballou alleges, after she filed her discrimination complaint and with “a male officer who was below (Ballou) on the qualification list, as they had done previously in June and October 2018.”

She further alleges that since qualifying for the sergeant’s list, she has been subjected to bad-faith campaigns “to besmirch (Ballou’s) work performance record because of her sex.”

“Defendants’ purpose was to deprive her of promotional opportunities, to create a hostile work environment and to force the termination of her employment,” according to the suit.

Ballou said six internal affairs investigations were opened against her since becoming eligible for promotion, designed to provide a basis to pass her over. She said prior to June 2018, she had not been the subject of an internal affairs investigation. She also alleges that officers who supported her discrimination claims or who provided favorable testimony as part of the investigation were also subjected to bad-faith internal affairs investigations or other forms of retaliation.

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The city has opened an investigation with an outside attorney to evaluate her claims. The investigation began in August 2018 and has not yet concluded.

“However, after learning of the fact of her complaints and the basis of her complaints, (the city) has taken no corrective action to stop the discrimination, retaliation or harassment,” according to the suit.

The city of Vancouver confirmed the independent investigation into Ballou’s allegations. When asked for comment, Assistant City Attorney Sara Baynard-Cooke cited discipline Ballou received in June 2018 for failing to complete required police records.

“Officer Ballou’s discipline followed a citizen-initiated complaint by a burglary victim who indicated that Officer Ballou failed to prepare a police report after responding to their call for service,” Baynard-Cooke said in a statement.

The city declined to comment further, as did McElvain and Ballou’s Portland attorney Stephen Brischetto.

Ballou is seeking lost wages, fringe benefits, damages for increased tax liability and punitive damages. The suit also asks that punitive damages be assessed against McElvain “to deter him from such conduct in the future.”

Columbian politics reporter