By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
The state’s Human Rights Bureau has found probable cause for sexual discrimination or retaliation in the firing of former Melrose Police Chief Jennifer Dreiling last year by then-mayor Lance Pyle.
A hearing has been set for Sept. 15-16, according to a June 3 letter from the bureau provided to the Clovis News Journal on Wednesday by Dan Lindsey, Dreiling’s attorney.
The letter indicates the discrimination charge was filed by Dreiling on Sept. 15, 2009, five months after she was fired for alleged poor performance.
At the time of her termination, Dreiling claimed Pyle made sexual advances toward her and when she turned him down, he retaliated by firing her.
Mary Torres, an Albuquerque attorney representing Pyle, said neither she nor Pyle had seen the letter and couldn’t comment on it specifically.
However, she said Pyle insists Dreiling’s dismissal was legitimate.
“There are two sides to this story, and Ms. Dreiling’s termination was based on legitimate business reasons and was not discriminatory,” Torres said. “Mr. Pyle looks forward to clearing his good name.”
Pyle is also the Curry County manager.
Pyle previously denied Dreiling’s allegations of sexual harassment and said the village fired her because she was a probationary employee and performed poorly in the position.
A spokesperson for the state bureau declined to discuss the contents of the letter Wednesday and said by policy complaints filed are neither confirmed nor denied.
“After consideration of all the evidence presented to the Human Rights Bureau in connection with your complaint, I find there is sufficient evidence to believe that discrimination has occurred,” Director Francie Cordova wrote in her letter.
Addressed to Dreiling, the letter states, “There is evidence that substantiates your claims of sexual harassment including witnesses who saw the text messages and who saw the mayor drive by your home.”
The letter also indicates there was evidence Dreiling exhibited poor job performance, including missing a DWI meeting she was expected to attend and giving a false reason for not being there, as well as speeding in her police unit.
“This conflicting evidence requires an evidentiary hearing,” the letter states, encouraging the village, Pyle and Dreiling to attempt a settlement in the case.
Lindsey said there has been no contact suggesting settlement but he and Dreiling would welcome discussions, preferring not to end up in litigation on the issue.
Absent settlement talks, Lindsey said they will continue forward with the case.
“We’re extremely confident we will prevail … Mr. Pyle’s continual denial of the truth is … concerning to my client and she’s going to proceed with full force,” he said.
“She wants her name cleared. She is a certified police officer and she has been smeared by Lance Pyle and the city of Melrose. She wants her name cleared, and she wants reinstatement with back pay.”
Torres said Pyle is not interested in settling.
“There will be no settlement and he wants to vigorously defend this case and to clear his good name,” she said.
Mayor Tuck Monk, who was a councilman for the village when Dreiling was fired, said previously it was the Melrose council that made the decision to fire Dreiling, not Pyle.
Declining to comment on the determination Wednesday, Monk said he can’t address the issue because he has not seen the letter nor has he discussed it with anyone.
Dreiling has said during the time of her employment with the village, Pyle invited her to working dinners and tried to use them to create romantic encounters, asked her to marry him several times and interfered with her attempts to date others by making it seem he was her boyfriend.
Dreiling was hired June 2, 2008, at a salary of $28,000 and served as the only officer for the community of about 700 that lies about 20 miles west of Clovis.
She was fired April 20, 2009. To date the village has not replaced her, instead hiring off-duty Curry County sheriff’s deputies to police the community.