Probe of F’ville cops: No retaliation, no hostile work place

Investigator: ‘Petty slights and workplace annoyances’

An investigation of the Fayetteville Police Dept. conducted by Atlanta attorney Lorene Schaefer over allegations of a hostile work environment and retaliations against employees by former Police Chief Steve Heaton and former Maj. Kevin Gooding has concluded that those allegations were without merit.

The investigation centered on allegations from a department employee that a hostile work environment existed in the department under Heaton and Gooding and that employees had been retaliated against for raising personnel-related concerns.

“The behavior the witnesses described focused, however, on concerns about communication and leadership and the increasing demands that they ‘do more with less’ as employees resigned from the police department and were not replaced due to budget constraints,” Schaefer reported.

“Employees also expressed frustration with some of the department policies implemented by the former chief and major. Perhaps the policy with which they were most frustrated was the chief’s policy that required supervisors investigate vehicular accidents involving department employees who were operating city-owned vehicles,” Schaefer said.

As for allegations of retaliatory actions made against employees for raising personnel concerns, Schaefer also noted that those were without merit.

“... [N]one of the alleged acts of ‘retaliation’ described by the witnesses rise to the level of prohibited adverse acts of retaliation under the EEOC’s (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) guidance. Rather, they are, at best, the type of petty slights and workplace annoyances that the EEOC specifically provides are not retaliatory adverse actions,” Schaefer said.

Citing an example, Schaefer said the reporting employee expressed concern that the Gooding accused that employee of making another employee look sad. This action was described as being “retaliation.” Even assuming that Gooding did make this statement, it was not a retaliatory adverse action of the type that would be prohibited. It is, at most, a workplace annoyance, said Schaefer.

The investigation’s conclusion noted a generalized sense of frustration with the leadership of the former chief and major.

“It is difficult to pin-point the source of this frustration and the investigation was into allegations of hostile work environment and retaliation, and not an employee moral study or management study,” Schaefer said.

Both Heaton and Gooding retired in April.

CW4R's picture
Joined: 07/12/2012
The Real Issue Was Command Climate

Here's the problem with having a lawyer do the investigation using EEOC standards vs. having an experienced police commander do it. Technically the complaints may not have reached the trigger level for EEOC action, and that's all the lawyer looked at. My feeling is the real issue with the Fayetteville PD was and may still be a poor command climate. Command climate is the general tone senior commanders set in an organization.

It all starts with leadership by example, high standards of professional behavior, mentoring, tough but fair and equally enforced policies, putting your people first (ahead of your political masters), empowering your personnel with the authority to do their jobs effectively and without undue interference and allowing your personnel to learn from their mistakes without retribution. These are intangibles that few lawyers understand but true leaders intuitively grasp.

From what I was able to observe the command climate in the Fayetteville PD had become pretty poor. The poor command climate was Heaton's responsibility and his alone. I'm hoping his departure and the departure of other senior command staff will change things. Our police officers deserve better.

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