It came to light last week that in August the city settled a lawsuit filed by two former female city employees with them each receiving payouts of $200,000.
On Aug. 14 the City Council concurred with the settlement negotiated by the city's insurer, the Central San Joaquin Valley Risk Management Authority, said City Manager Toby Wells. He said that despite the city's belief that the suit could have been successfully defended, the settlement ended the possibility of a protracted lawsuit in court which would have cost the city and the Authority more money.
In settling the lawsuit, the city admitted no liability and the two litigants are contractually bound from speaking publicly on the matter.
The City Council approved the settlement, which cost the city a $25,000 deductible.
Carissa Higginbotham, who at the time was the city's Public Safety Executive Assistant, alleged that on Oct. 29, 2013 she spotted a cell phone on the floor at work and asked who it belonged to - to which Officer Coey Henson admitted it was. She was wearing a dress at the time. Higginbotham, the daughter of former Sgt. Jeff Higginbotham, claims that the next day Henson showed her a video of her upper thigh and underwear recorded on his phone. Higginbotham said she was offended and ordered him not to show it to anyone but said he did, the lawsuit indicated.
She went to police management, which ordered an internal investigation while Henson was placed on leave. He was released in February 2014 but he was reinstated after appealing the action. The lawsuit alleged that Ceres Police's internal investigation was not thorough.
Higginbotham alleged that Ceres Police Chief Brent Smith supported Henson and directed hate speech at Higginbotham because of the sexual preference of her and her female spouse. She later resigned from her position in November 2014.
Also alleging a similar incident was Alexandra Warner, hired as a crime analyst and crime scene technician in January 2012. Warner alleged that on May 19, 2014 she found a hidden surveillance video camera aimed at her desk and where she changed clothes before working out in the CPD's fitness room. She claims the camera was operating for over a month. Warner said the officers assigned to the Street Crimes Unit created a hostile work environment.
Almost a year later, Higginbotham and Warner teamed up to hire Casper, Meadows, Schwartz & Cook of Walnut Creek to file a joint lawsuit against the city.
Warner was required in the settlement to terminate her employment with the city.
The lawsuit alleged that while four male employees placed the camera in Warner's office, they were cleared of sexual discrimination and harassment charges. The lawsuit named the involved employees as being Sgt. Trenton Johnson and officers Brian Albonetti, Keith Griebel and Dirk Nieuwenhuis.
Wells said the city took "corrective action commensurate with the findings of the internal affairs investigations," but cannot "identify discipline taken, if any, against the accused employees."
Only Albonetti is no longer working for Ceres Police.