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News - All - 7 Jun 2017

News Item 198 of 4383 

Miscellaneous: 7 Jun 2017
More details come out in lawsuit against police

Cst. Angelina Rivers is one of the representative plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against Waterloo Regional Police Service. She alleges she was sexually harassed and discriminated against because of her gender. - Samantha Beattie Photo

A sergeant named in a class-action lawsuit against Waterloo Region police had previously been the subject of an independent investigation that found he’d sent sexually suggestive, inappropriate and unwelcome text messages to one of the complainants, Const. Angelina Rivers.

Lawyer Lauren Bernardi, hired by the Waterloo Regional Police Service after Rivers filed a formal sexual harassment complaint to human resources in 2015, also determined Sgt. Nathan Cardoza had exaggerated errors Rivers made on the job, leading to her demotion.

“It is difficult to imagine how Const. Rivers could have succeeded or improved in such an environment,” said Bernardi in her report, released February 2016.

Bernardi did not respond to a request for comment.

According to Rivers, Cardoza was reprimanded with a letter in his file for two years and docked a week's pay. Police would not confirm how he was reprimanded.

"The Police Services Act allows for investigation and disciplinary action at the direction of the chief," said Insp. Mike Haffner in an email. "Because this is an employment matter, I am unable to comment about the specific details or resolution."

Less than a year after the independent investigation, Chief Bryan Larkin presented Cardoza with the Team Policing Award in front of the Police Services Board. Cardoza remains a sergeant and earned more than $128,000 in 2016, according to the Ontario "Sunshine List."

A class-action lawsuit was announced last Thursday against WRPS and its police association for gender-based discrimination and harassment, sexual harassment and sexual assault. Rivers, who is on stress leave, and former Const. Sharon Zehr are the representative plaintiffs.

They allege they were subject to routine harassment and abuse from their male colleagues at WRPS and are seeking $150 million in damages. Retired WRPS superintendent Barry Zehr, Sharon Zehr's husband, is seeking $17 million in family damages.

None of the allegations has been tested in court.

In a response statement to the class action, Larkin said the allegations that underwent an independent investigation were “dealt with appropriately.”

That comment infuriated Rivers, who said in an interview, “If giving ... an award for teamwork is dealing with it appropriately, then it’s no wonder sexual harassment is so prolific at WRPS.”

The allegations in question happened in 2013 when Rivers said she turned to Cardoza for mentorship, as she wanted to work her way to detective. What started as a friendly working relationship turned sour, according to Rivers.

Text messages included in Bernardi's independent investigation appeared to show Cardoza texted Rivers to say he’d heard rumours she’d been having an affair with another officer and “was totally insulted” because she didn’t choose him," and that he was “naked and drunk.”

Bernardi found Cardoza didn’t take any action to squash rumours about Rivers allegedly having an affair. When Rivers asked him what she should do about the rumours, he said to do nothing, or risk her career.

She followed his advice at that time, said the statement of claim. Rivers was promoted to detective and worked directly under Cardoza.

"The acts of discrimination and harassment continued," said the statement of claim.

Bernardi said in her report that “once Const. Rivers performance was determined and/or perceived to be poor, everything she said or did was evaluated through that lens across the board, such that even minor mistakes were noticed and amplified.

“I believe at times Sgt. Cardoza either consciously or unconsciously exaggerated the extent of her errors,” said the independent investigation.

One time, Rivers was tasked with looking after a five-year-old child whose mother had been arrested, said the statement of claim. They were waiting in a police cruiser for family and children’s services to arrive and Rivers decided go into the child's home so the child use the bathroom, stay warm and have something to eat.

For that decision, Rivers was charged for discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act for entering a house without authority, said the statement of claim.

“I became completely undone,” Rivers said. “I suffered a nervous breakdown and felt my peers were less than supportive, taking notes on my ever misstep.”

Rivers was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and alcohol abuse disorder.

A few months after that incident, Staff Sgt. Paul Lobsinger, Cardoza’s boss, called her into his office along with two of her male colleagues, said the statement of claim. In front of them, he told her she was being demoted for having a scratch on her police car more than a month before, asking a mentor and colleague how he organized his notes for a specific incident, and missing a shot gun at a crime scene.

The last incident occurred under the direct supervision of Cardoza, who was not reprimanded, said the statement of claim.

“In addition to sexual harassment, they were calling my integrity into question,” she said. “I had no one to trust, no one to go to. I was done.”

Rivers went on stress leave the next day.

Bernadi would later determine in the independent investigation that Lobsinger admitted to her that he “was trying to protect Sgt. Cardoza because he believed Const. Rivers was going to file a harassment complaint, even though she hadn’t explicitly said she planned to do so.”

The class action lawsuit includes all 167 female members of the WRPS, as well as a number of retired officers, said spokesperson Anika Christie on behalf of Cambridge LLP and Scarfone Hawkins LLP, the law firms representing the plaintiffs. At a later date, these officers can choose to opt out, or remain anonymous.

"We have heard from many class members directly who have told us stories similar to those shared by (Rivers and Zehr)," said Christie, "and from male officers who have confirmed witnessing this type of sexist behaviour."

Samantha Beattie

by Samantha Beattie

Samantha Beattie is a reporter with the Waterloo Chronicle. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter
eMail: Twitter

by Samantha Beattie Waterloo Chronicle/Twitter/AA

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