By The Vanguard Staff
FRESNO, CA – Former Fresno Police Sgt. Stacie Szatmari, who claims in a statement she was “subjected to relentless and disgusting sexual harassment by fellow officers and subordinates while her complaints went ignored by the chief,” announced Monday she was suing the Fresno Police Department.
The complaint, filed July 6 in Fresno County Superior Court, alleges “wrongful and retaliatory termination, discrimination based on gender and disability, creating a hostile work environment and failing to remedy the harassment,” said her attorney Nicholas Yasman.
Szatmari, who was on the force 20 years, asserts she “received nothing but praise.” In 2020, her attorney wrote “she was even hailed as a hero for returning to the scene of an arson fire to personally help the victims by purchasing them clothes and toiletries and finding them temporary housing.”
But it all changed, her legal filing notes, when she transferred into the K9 unit, and began to question some of the unit’s actions.
“This is among the most egregious workplace discrimination cases I’ve ever seen, and we have mountains of evidence to support Ms. Szatmari’s claims,” said attorney Yasman of Los Angeles-based West Coast Employment Lawyers in a written statement.
“It is disgusting what occurred to this exemplary officer while working in an unbelievably hostile environment. Ms. Szatmari is someone with integrity and a love for serving her community, and all of that was stripped from her over lies and deceit in a police department that is clearly a ‘good old boys club’ and just wanted her out,” the lawyer added.
According to the complaint, she was transferred to the all-male K9/mounted patrol unit Sept. 28, 2020, and, said the former cop, “I was so excited. It’s such an elite unit. And having the ability to be a supervisor, I was just in awe. I’m emotional talking about it.”
She said, in a statement, she was told by “her superior, Lt. Jordan Beckford, “that the Fresno K9 Unit falls under ‘Vegas rules,’ meaning ‘what happens in the K9 field, stays in and at the K9 field.’”
And, shortly after, according to the complaint, a lieutenant sent a group text message to the unit, including Szatmari, about Thanksgiving that “devolved into a disturbingly sexual nature with one officer sending around a picture of a turkey ‘with a human penis overlayed onto the neck and head’ with a message stating, ‘Our turkey is ready eat.’”
Then, in a December 2020 briefing, the complaint added, “all the male officers in the unit began discussing their traditional blow-up doll that gets passed around during the party.”
Szatmari said she was offended and left the room, remembering, according to the complaint, her supervisor told her “the boys get to do what the boys get to do, no questions asked.”
Szatmari claims it was a week later that, after she brought her sister to work, she was told by a fellow K9 officer, “I wouldn’t mind f***ing your sister.”
After telling the unit the behavior should stop, Szatmari said in the lawsuit it only led to “further harassment with continued sexually explicit, and sometimes racially charged and homophobic, text messages,” and leading to “fabricating stories about Szatmari exposing herself to male colleagues.”
The lawsuit alleged others in the unit filed a formal complaint against her with the internal affairs department, which resulted in Szatmari being “stripped of her supervisor duties and eventually moved to much less desirable units, yet another move she believes was in direct retaliation for her legally protected complaints.”
Szatmari claims she told Chief Paco Balderrama, but the chief “did nothing,” according to the lawsuit.
The complaint states the department “seized all Szatmari’s work equipment and took away her beloved K9, Freyja, before placing her on administrative leave pending completion of the internal affairs investigation” in February 2022.
Her statement said Szatmari filed a worker’s compensation claim “due to the stress and anxiety brought about by the hostile work environment and false allegations, and about four months later,” she was placed on mental health leave.
In December 2022, Szatmari said she was fired, because of, she believes, ”her protected complaints, her refusal to participate in the unceasing sexual harassment targeted at her by her colleagues and superiors, and her mental health leave from work,” according to the lawsuit.