California police agency sued by 14-year veteran for ageism

Sandy Richards spent 30 years in law enforcement, working her way up from being a…

Sandy Richards spent 30 years in law enforcement, working her way up from being a Yolo County 911 dispatcher to running the civilian side of the Citrus Heights Police Department, where she had worked since 2006.

“I bleed blue,” Richards said. “I loved being a steward of the taxpayer’s money, being fiscally responsible.

“I was doing a good job.”

But Richards is 57, and that was a problem for Citrus Heights, according to an age discrimination lawsuit filed in federal court in Sacramento this week that accuses Citrus Heights officials of manufacturing a reason to fire her after she refused to retire.

The lawsuit names Chief Ron Lawrence, former chief and current City Manager Christopher Boyd and Richards’ direct supervisor, Assistant Chief Gina Anderson. It accuses the department of ginning up a phony internal affairs investigation that led to her being escorted out of police headquarters and ultimately fired.

The reason? Her age, according to the lawsuit.

“Richards turned 55 years of age in February 2018,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed by Sacramento attorney Johnny Griffin III. “At the beginning of 2018, Chief of Police Lawrence began talking to Richards about retiring and training her successors before her retirement.

“Lawrence raised these subjects even though Richards never expressed to him her desire to retire. Richards did not want to retire at age 55. Nevertheless, Lawrence persisted in talking about Richards’ retirement and would frequently bring up the topic himself and talked about Richards’ retirement with other Police Department personnel.

“Lawrence persisted in talking about Richards’ retirement even though her exceptional job performance continued after age 55 and continued until her eventual termination.”

Citrus Heights police referred questions about the lawsuit to City Hall, where a spokeswoman declined to comment.

But Richards, in an interview Thursday with The Sacramento Bee, said her ouster from a career she loved has left her “devastated.”

“I was unceremoniously walked out of the police department …,” she said. “I have bad nightmares about it, full-on emotional trauma.

“I’ve never had anything like this happen.”

In her former job as support services manager, Richards oversaw the department’s dispatchers, records department, dozens of volunteers, radio and communications services and building maintenance for the suburban Sacramento department.

“I’m a worker bee, I love to work,” she said. “I love to keep busy, I love to be a problem solver. That’s why I was good with my job. I was a problem solver, I could solve anything.”

And, she says, her age is not a problem.

“I could run circles around most people,” Richards said. “I would still be working there.

“I loved what I did.”

She wouldn’t retire, so ‘harassment and hostility’ began, lawsuit says

But at the start of 2018, Lawrence began talking to her about retiring, the lawsuit says, and once it became evident she did not plan to retire, “Lawrence began a campaign of harassment and hostility” toward her and manufactured “bogus workplace violations” to force her out.

On June 21, 2019, she was placed on administrative leave and escorted out of the building without anyone giving her a reason for her removal, the suit says.

The next day, Boyd, the city manager and former chief, returned her phone call and she “protested her termination,” the suit says.

“Boyd responded that she should have had an exit plan like Boyd did,” the suit says.

The department began an internal affairs probe and in September 2019 “cited examples of misconduct” that Richards “vehemently disagreed with” and considered a pretext for age discrimination, the lawsuit says.

The department ordered a psychological exam, the lawsuit says, a requirement “imposed without justification because Richards did not display any objective signs that her psychological fitness was an issue.”

On April 8, Richards was fired based on the city’s findings of “serious misconduct” and “harassment and discrimination,” the suit says.

Richards says the she “absolutely” disagrees with such findings, but said she cannot comment on specifics of the allegations because she expects the information to come out as the lawsuit progresses.

Since she was walked out of the police building, she said “I just stayed home in silence” for months.

In June, she filed a claim against the city, which was rejected two weeks later, the suit says, and she proceeded to lodge complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Both agencies issued her “right to sue” letters, so she sued, seeking compensatory, punitive and other damages.

But, she says, she wants something else out of the lawsuit.

“I don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” Richards said. “Being a civilian manager is really, really hard. Being a female civilian manager is even harder.

“And I worked really hard to make it work and to take care of people. I mean, that’s what I do. Support services. That’s what you do, support everybody …

“This is devastating to me, just absolutely devastating. I struggle with it every day.”

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Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.

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