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Police chief's memo takes issue with bias complaint

Acting Chief Bob Hempel denies a male sergeant called a female officer's shoe size a "physical deformity'' or "birth defect.''

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 26, 2000


PINELLAS PARK -- A police sergeant did not tell a female officer that her large shoe size was a "physical deformity" and a "birth defect," according to a memorandum by acting Chief Bob Hempel.

Instead, Sgt. George Madden told the officer that she would need a doctor's statement explaining the need for the expensive shoes she wanted to order, said the memo.

"She was requesting permission from him to purchase a very expensive shoe," Hempel wrote. "He understands as a supervisor that any purchase outside the norm must be with a justification."

Hempel wrote the memo Wednesday after Pinellas Park police Officer Donna Saxer filed state and federal claims that she had been harassed and discriminated against because she was a woman.

Among Saxer's allegations:

She was transferred out of the bike patrol after three years, even though she wanted to stay there. While it is departmental policy to transfer officers after three years in a position, Saxer has said male officers can stay on that patrol for more than three years.

She was barred from furthering her training.

Officers are allowed one pair of shoes each year. In February, she asked for her second pair in seven years. Saxer, who wears size 111/2 AAA, was told that her shoe size was a "physical deformity" and a "birth defect" and that no special orders would be placed unless she had a doctor's note.

When she alleged in a performance evaluation that being denied training was preventing her from advancing, she was ordered to delete that. She was also "yelled" at by a lieutenant and accused of insubordination for complaining in writing to the chief that she was being denied training and advancement.

Another female officer was told to tell Saxer that she would never go anywhere in the department.

Hempel's memo deals with only one of the allegations: her shoe problems.

The department, he wrote, has records showing she has had at least four pairs of shoes in seven years, not two.

"Lt. (John) Green advised me that he knows she has had several more pairs from when she served on the bike unit," Hempel wrote. "He remembers clearly because it was always difficult finding her a suitable shoe due to her foot size."

Hempel said records show Saxer wears an 111/2 AA, not a AAA.

"This is an unusual shoe size and it is difficult finding a shoe in that size," Hempel wrote.

Saxer's attorney, Catherine Kyres, was out of the country and did not return a phone message asking for comment.

Saxer, an award-winning officer, is one of three women who have filed complaints with state and federal agencies that they have been sexually discriminated against and harassed. Two male officers have filed union grievances alleging they are on a departmental "hit list" because of their ages and because they speak their minds. The wife of one of the officers also has complained to City Manager Jerry Mudd that the problems of bias and mistreatment extend to spouses.

City officials have denied they tolerate sexual or age harassment or discrimination. While they are internally investigating all of the complaints, they have specifically found no sexual harassment or discrimination against Saxer or Shirley Atherton Marsh, who no longer works for the Police Department.

However, an internal investigation into Saxer's charges found communication problems and disrespect in the department. Mudd has recommended the council hire an outside consultant to see how widespread are the problems and to suggest solutions.

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