A female deputy who alleged gender discrimination at the hands of Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson has agreed to a settlement of a half-million dollars.
Many of the allegations by Crystal Jansen concern Nelson directly and were alleged to have taken place 2014-16, when she was the only woman in a supervisory role at the sheriff’s office.
Wednesday night, the sheriff’s office announced, in a short press release, that Jansen will resign and drop her claims in federal district court in exchange for $527,000.
“The parties will not be providing any additional comment,” the release states.
But Jansen’s lawsuit, filed in 2017 in federal district court in Eugene, offers details of her experience.
Jansen joined the sheriff’s office as a civilian employee in 1996 and was reclassified as a sheriff’s deputy the next year. In 2013, she was promoted to sergeant and, following the retirement of a different employee, Jansen became the only female deputy supervisor.
In 2014, Nelson was a captain overseeing the corrections division. Around that time, Jansen’s lieutenant, Robert Trono, advised her to “lay low” and avoid Nelson because Nelson was focused on her and he didn’t like her, according to Jansen’s lawsuit.
She wanted to protect her job, but after hearing Trono’s warning, she stepped down from roles she served and otherwise sought to limit her visibility to Nelson, her complaint states.
“(She) did not know why she was being singled out for poor treatment by Capt. Nelson, but the Captain made a special effort to communicate to Plaintiff he did not believe she belonged in his department,” the lawsuit states.
Jansen states she was subjected to unequal treatment in numerous ways, like having to send emails first to a supervisor to look over before they were sent out and being denied opportunities to attend career training events. She states she was directed to remove photos of herself in uniform from social media accounts. She was counseled after openly disagreeing with a mental health worker at a meeting held to discuss inmate issues.
When a lieutenant’s position opened in 2015, Jansen told a supervisor she wished to pursue it. The supervisor advised her against it, because Nelson would reportedly not support her application, the lawsuit states.
As a sergeant, Jansen was an at-will employee under the law, and thus not protected by the office’s deputy union. In January 2016, worried about receiving another “false” evaluation and being terminated, she requested a demotion to the position of union deputy.
“In addition to being a step down in terms of authority and influence, the deputy position was a significant pay cut, but (Jansen) knew it was the only way to save her job,” the lawsuit states. “After several years of experience, (she) could find no other reason to explain Sheriff Nelson’s treatment of her except for her sex.”
In 2016, she made a formal complaint of job-related harassment.
At the time, Nelson was running in the first contested sheriff’s race in Deschutes County in 16 years. Nelson discussed with the media how he had brought in an outside investigator to look into several complaints made by “former supervisors,” including Jansen. When the investigation found Jansen’s complaint “’unsubstantiated,” Nelson announced the result to the media and all sheriff’s office employees.
But, according to Jansen, the investigation was never intended to find the truth. “Clearly the purpose of the investigation was to exonerate him,” the lawsuit states. Witnesses for Jansen were never interviewed, evidence that supported her account never examined and allegations from her complaint were ignored completely, Jansen wrote in her lawsuit.
Following Nelson’s announcement of the investigation results, Jansen claims he “went out of his way” to be around her and touch her in front of others. On one occasion, he stood over her as she sat in a chair, put his hand on her shoulder and winked at her, the lawsuit states. She “felt humiliated by his not-so-subtle show of dominance over her.”
Jansen filed a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries in 2016 and her lawsuit in 2017.
In 2019, another female deputy, Christine Daugherty, filed a federal suit alleging age, gender and whistleblower discrimination. Daugherty says she was improperly fired for insubordination after reporting acts of discrimination by sergeants at the office. Her lawsuit remains active. The sheriff’s office denies Daugherty’s claims.
Women make up around 12% of U.S. police officers, according to the most recent FBI figures.
As of Thursday, there were 19 female deputies at the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and 42 nonsworn female staff members. There were no female deputies in supervisory positions, while there were three nonsworn women supervisors: a records supervisor, medical director and behavioral health supervisor.
Last month, a jury in federal court found Nelson and the sheriff’s office had violated the First Amendment rights of former deputy Eric Kozowski and awarded him $1 million. Kozowski ran against Nelson for sheriff in 2016 and was later fired after being subjected to numerous low-level conduct investigations. Nelson was ordered to personally pay Kozowski $10,000 for violating his rights.
With the Jansen settlement and the Kozowski verdict, there are now eight active lawsuits against the sheriff’s office.
A captain currently on paid leave, Deron McMaster, has filed a tort claim notice with the county but has yet to file a lawsuit.
The county government is self-insured for general liability claims up to $1 million. As a result, claims under $1 million are paid from the county’s risk management fund.
Erik Kropp, deputy county administrator, said the number of claims paid out and the amount paid out does impact the county’s insurance premiums, though it’s not known exactly by how much.
“Those underwriting criteria are managed and assessed by the insurer and therefore the county is not able to determine how the impact from any one claim is reflected in future excess insurance premiums,” he told The Bulletin.