Deputy seeks punitive damages

In an amended lawsuit filed in the Fourth Judicial District Court last week, Missoula County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Rebecca Birket argues that her male superiors should pay punitive damages to better ensure that no other woman is subjected to the alleged workplace discrimination she faced after an off-duty kiss with a male colleague.

“She brings this lawsuit because she does not want her daughter, or anyone else’s daughter, ever again to be subjected to the treatment described in this Complaint by a Missoula law enforcement agency,” the lawsuit states.

Birket’s complaint, originally filed last month, lists Sheriff Carl Ibsen, Undersheriff Josh Clark, Capt. Mike Dominick and Capt. Brad Giffin as defendants. She claimes Giffin and Dominick grilled her for “prurient” details about an off-duty kiss she had with a male colleague in June 2013.

Birket alleges the scrutiny she received in the wake of the kiss was vastly disproportionate to that of her married male coworker, referred to as “Deputy Doe” in court filings.

“He was not subjected to multiple interviews, he was not pressed for private and prurient details about the kiss, and he was not ordered to provide a written statement with additional intimate details …,” the lawsuit argues.

Birket’s attorneys maintain the department discriminated against her and also violated her right to privacy. “Montana has one of the strongest provisions ensuring individual privacy rights in the country,” says Elizabeth Best, Birket’s Great Falls-based lawyer.

Birket’s legal filing chronicles the series of events leading up to the lawsuit. On June 26, 2013, she kissed Doe while at home and off duty. According to information the sheriff’s department provided to the Montana Human Rights Bureau during an investigation into Birket’s complaint, Doe was working at the time and “ignored a 911 call … that was his responsibility.”

After Birket admitted to the kiss, her superiors said she had violated the department’s Relationships with Married Persons Policy and ordered her to detail the incident at least three additional times, once in front of an all-male review board. On July 25, the review board voted to fire Birket, who was a probationary employee at the time. The board, after finding additional allegations against Doe, also voted to fire him. Rather than terminate Birket, Ibsen opted to suspend her for two shifts. Doe was ultimately punished for missing the 911 call.

In August, the Missoula Board of County Commissioners intervened, rescinding Ibsen’s disciplinary decision to suspend Birket. According to Human Rights Bureau findings, commissioners also declared the Relationships with Married Persons Policy “inappropriate and unenforceable.”

Last month, the Human Rights Bureau said Birket failed to prove in that case that her employers unlawfully discriminated against her.

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