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Judge denies damages for Missoula police officer claiming sexual harassment

Judge denies damages for Missoula police officer claiming sexual harassment

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A summary judgment filed by Ravalli County District Judge Jeffrey Langton last month denied damages in a lawsuit alleging that a female Missoula police officer sexually harassed a male subordinate last year.

The complaint, filed by Missoula Police Detective Chris Shermer in March, alleged that Lt. Sandy Kosena grabbed Shermer’s backside while on duty, claiming that Kosena “placed her pinkie finger in between his buttocks,” while whispering an inappropriate comment in his ear.

Shermer filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Missoula and Kosena seeking actual and punitive damages and attorney fees. In the suit, Shermer lists Kosena in five tort claims, including assault, battery and negligence, and alleged that he suffered emotional distress from her actions and the actions of the Missoula Police Department while it conducted an internal investigation.

He further alleged that he was “subjected to illegal employment discrimination” based upon his sex.

Since the lawsuit involved two Missoula police officers who have frequent professional contact with Missoula County judges, Ravailli County assumed jurisdiction over the matter.

While the judgment acknowledges the incident, it rejects Shermer’s right to damages.

The judgment revealed the Missoula Police Department internally investigated the incident and concluded that it wasn’t a criminal sexual assault, calling it an “employee-related matter” instead.

During the investigation, Kosena admitted to grabbing Shermer’s backside after he had flipped off her and another officer.

Shermer was in his vehicle near the corner of Higgins Avenue and Pine Street when the incident occurred. He said he was “goofing off” when he made the gesture to Sgt. Bob Franke, who was standing near Shermer on the sidewalk. Kosena was walking with Franke and assumed that the gesture was also directed at her, the investigation revealed.

Kosena’s defense argued that the gesture was a continuation of “jovial” behavior that Shermer initiated outside the station.

The investigation, conducted by Capt. Scott Hoffman, revealed that Kosena acknowledged grabbing Shermer’s buttocks and offered an apology to Hoffman and the department.

“Lt. Kosena described her working relationship with Shermer over the past 12 years as a joking friendly relationship.” Hoffman wrote in his finding. “There had never been any issues between the two of them over the course of their interactions in the past.”

Kosena received a level 2 notice of discipline, but Shermer claimed the punishment “was substantially less” than male employees would have received if they had behaved similarly.

Five other sexual harassment complaints involving female officers accusing their male colleagues of sexual harassment listed in MPD’s report were referenced in the judgment.

Kosena received the harshest punishment – more severe than any other subject in the complaints, and none of the other complaints resulted in a sexual assault claim, the report stated.

“Based on his own sworn statements and the exhibit to his reply brief, Shermer cannot show that Kosena intended to cause harmful or offensive contact when she smacked or groped him on the buttock,” the judgment stated.

Neither Shermer nor Kosena returned a call for comment on the judgment.

Reporter Kathryn Haake can be reached at 523-5268 or at kate.haake@missoulian.com.

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