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Jury decides against City of Omaha and Chief Todd Schmaderer in favor of former captain; city plans to appeal

Posted at 3:00 PM, Sep 12, 2022

Updated with AP story at 3:58 p.m.

A former Omaha police captain has prevailed in her lawsuit against Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and the city, having sued over allegations that the chief failed to promote her in retaliation for filing a discrimination complaint.

A federal jury agreed Monday that Schmaderer based his decision, at least in part, to not promote Kathy Belcastro-Gonzalez to deputy chief in 2018 because of a discrimination complaint she made directly to the mayor's office, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Belcastro-Gonzalez said in her lawsuit that she and another woman who was a lieutenant in the department filed separate complaints against the same male officer in 2010, describing the man as creating a hostile work environment for them because they were women. In 2017, the male officer in question was promoted to one of five chief deputy positions that Belcastro-Gonzalez had also applied for.

That same year, Belcastro-Gonzalez went over her police superiors' heads to complain to the mayor's office after the earlier complaints about the male officer made through the chain of command went nowhere. During the lawsuit's trial, two former commanders of the Omaha police internal affairs unit testified to irregularities they described as "very unusual" in the handling of Belcastro-Gonzalez's and the other woman's complaints about the officer, which happened before Schmaderer was named police chief in 2012.

In 2018, Belcastro-Gonzalez again applied for a chief deputy slot, but was passed over despite having the top score on testing among candidates for the position.

At trial, Schmaderer denied that he had retaliated against Belcastro-Gonzalez and testified that several factors played into his decision not to promote her, including what he described in interview notes as Belcastro-Gonzalez having a "huge chip" on her shoulder, as well as a lack of leadership qualities and having more overtime hours than all the other department captains in 2017.

Belcastro-Gonzalez's lawyer said at trial that Schmaderer's listed concerns about promoting his client were pretexts he came up with after Belcastro-Gonzalez filed her complaint.

Last May, Schmaderer recommended firing Belcastro-Gonzalez.

The jury awarded Belcastro-Gonzalez lost wages and benefits of $680,000, plus $20,000 in other damages.


Statement from the city attorney:

"The jurors in the lawsuit filed by Kathy Belcastro-Gonzalez have returned a verdict against the City. While this decision is unfortunate, the City thanks the jurors for their service. Despite this verdict, the City maintains its position that Ms. Belcastro-Gonzalez was not promoted as a result of poor performance as a command officer. There was no retaliation by Chief Schmaderer. The City will appeal the verdict," said Kuhse.


Verdict:

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