Lakewood, WA – A police officer filed a lawsuit against the City of Lakewood on Monday in an attempt to force his department’s administration to follow the civil service laws and policies the city already has in place.
The officer thought he was being denied a promotion because he was a whistleblower, but it turned out that it was all about pink shoes that he wore to work as part of a union protest action, according to the lawsuit.
In his lawsuit, Officer Jeremy Vahle alleged that Lakewood Police Chief Mike Zaro misused the city’s civil services rules to repeatedly deny him a sergeant promotion, the News Tribune said.
Officer Vahle is the president of his local police union, the Lakewood Police Independent Guild. He has served in this capacity since 2015.
The lawsuit stated that the police union’s contract with the city required the department to follow the city’s civil service rules when determining promotions.
Under those guidelines, a list of the top three candidates “or 15 percent of the eligible people who apply, whichever number is greater,” should have been provided to hiring managers for promotion consideration, the News Tribune said.
Instead, Chief Zaro received a list of eight eligible candidates. Officer Vahle argued that this violated the city’s civil service rules.
According to the lawsuit, Officer Vahle ranked second on the merit-standards list in January, 2016. Over the next eight months, “the people ranked first, third, fifth, sixth and seventh were promoted” instead of Officer Vahle.
When the department began accepting sergeant applications again in August of 2017, Officer Vahle received the top score on the written examination, but he was second to last on work performance, “which included grades from sergeants promoted by Zaro over Vahle,” the lawsuit said.
The Lakewood Police Department hired Officer Vahle, a former Seattle police officer, in 2004, the News Tribune said.
In 2012, Officer Vahle discovered that a fellow officer, Skeeter Manos, stole $112,000 from a memorial fund that was established after the 2009 Parkland coffee shop murders of Lakewood Police Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards.
Officer Vahle reported Officer Manos’s criminal activities, which he said “got him crossways” with Chief Zaro.
Officer Manos was charged in a federal complaint with 10 counts of wire fraud, a felony, for allegedly stealing from the fund set up in the days after the officers were gunned down by Maurice Clemmons in November of 2009, according to the Seattle Times.
In September of 2016, Officer Vahle filed a whistleblower retaliation complaint.
An investigation determined Officer Vahle was not denied promotion for being a whistleblower, “but the city’s human resources director, Mary McDougal, found that Chief Zaro said Officer Vahle had ‘baggage’ because he wore pink shoes to work,” the lawsuit said.
Officer Vahle wore pink shoes on patrol for one-and-a-half days “while trying to negotiate a uniform allowance to cover the cost of work boots,” the lawsuit said.
“The wearing of pink shoes was a protected act during bargaining negotiations,” said Joan Mell, Officer Vahle’s attorney.
“Civil service has a purpose,” Mell argued. “You don’t want ‘yes’ people, especially in law enforcement, for all the reasons we’re looking at right now.”
In the lawsuit, Officer Vahle is seeking monetary damages, a promotion to sergeant, and that the court order that the city follow the civil service laws and policies it already has in place.