The City of Dubuque has reached a $1.8 million settlement with a former female police captain who sued the city and Police Chief Mark Dalsing in 2019 on the grounds of gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
Abby Simon’s lawsuit claimed that in 2016 and in 2017, she was passed over for a promotion to captain despite receiving better test and interview scores than the two men who received the promotions. In addition to discrimination against her, the lawsuit alleged there was a broad issue with sexism and discrimination in the department.
The lawsuit sought an unspecified judgment that would “fully and fairly compensate (Simon) for her injuries and damages” and any other relief deemed appropriate.
The $1,832,499 settlement agreement, approved by City Council members on Monday night, includes payments of $975,000 to Simon for claims of emotional distress and $47,778 in wages.
Simon’s counsel, Fiedler Law Firm, of Johnston, Iowa, receives $727,221 for attorney fees, and the Municipal Fire and Police Retirement System of Iowa receives $82,500 to satisfy a lien included in the lawsuit.
The city will pay a $20,000 deductible in connection with the settlement. The remainder will be paid by the Iowa Communities Assurance Pool, a self-insurance organization for Iowa public entities.
Simon releases the city and Dalsing from any and all claims and dismisses the lawsuit, according to the settlement.
City officials, including Mayor Roy Buol, declined to comment on the settlement, with some referring questions to City Attorney Crenna Brumwell, who also said she had no additional comment. Dubuque attorney Les Reddick, the city’s outside counsel, also declined comment.
Simon’s attorney, Paige Fiedler, did not return phone messages or an email seeking comment.
The settlement agreement states that the payments are “not an admission of any liability” by the city.
“This settlement is made for the purposes of avoiding the costs and risks of litigation,” according to the document.
Simon’s lawsuit stated that she became lieutenant of the criminal investigation division in 2010 and served there until a promotion in 2018. The lawsuit alleged that each of the eight men who held that position before Simon was promoted to captain or assistant chief after serving in the position for fewer years than Simon.
Her lawsuit claims that in 2016 and again in 2017, she was passed over for a promotion to captain despite receiving better test and interview scores than the two men who received the promotions. One of those men previously was reprimanded for making a racist comment, the suit states.
When she was promoted to a patrol captain role in 2018, the lawsuit states, Dalsing sent a memo to several staff members lamenting that the department was “forced” to create a new captain’s position for Simon due to her complaints about discrimination.
When Simon confronted Dalsing, the suit said, he told her “he sent it to everyone by accident and that he was trying to retract it.”
Since Simon assumed that captain position, the suit said, she continued to be treated with hostility by some officers and “her physical and mental health deteriorated.”
Simon also cited previous sexist and inappropriate comments made by Dalsing. In December 2017, Simon “made a formal, written complaint of sex discrimination against Chief Dalsing.” Two days later, she met with city officials, including City Attorney Crenna Brumwell and City Manager Mike Van Milligen.
About one month later, the suit states, Simon received a letter from Van Milligen that “he believed Chief Dalsing acted appropriately, but that the city and police department would be taking steps to address Simon’s concerns about the sexist organizational culture.”
The lawsuit also claims that Van Milligen at some point “asked Simon whether she had thought about the long-term consequences if she sued the city.”
Simon’s suit also claims there is a broader trend of discrimination, sexism and racism in the department.
It said several female officers have spoken to Simon about the sexist culture of the department, including being discouraged from seeking promotions and male officers making fun of them during training exercises.
The women said they have complained to superiors, but they weren’t taken seriously, the suit states. Some told Simon that the culture led them to resign.
In court filings, both Dalsing and the city denied Simon’s claims. Both contended that Simon’s complaints about police command staff were related to “interpersonal disputes and gender was never mentioned, nor was discriminatory conduct.”
The highest-ranking woman in the Police Department, Simon retired in January 2020 after more than 22 years in the department. She told the Telegraph Herald that her retirement was prompted by City Council members’ refusal to hold Dalsing and Van Milligen accountable.
In the summer of 2019, a majority of then-City Council members pushed to oust Van Milligen after months of closed-door discussions over claims of harassment and discrimination in the city’s workforce.
Concerns raised by council members at the time included the perceived mishandling of Simon’s lawsuit, as well as the process that led to her promotion.
However, formal, public action was not taken to oust Van Milligen, and the council’s makeup soon changed.
By May 2020, the then-council members voted unanimously to declare Van Milligen’s job safe and praised his work.