Department of Motor Vehicles Director Richard Kirkland says the Nevada Highway Patrol is on notice that sexual discrimination and harassment will no longer be tolerated.
To fix the problem he has enlisted the help of several people, including Patricia Kinard - one of only two female sergeants in NHP and one of the most recent victims of unequal treatment. Kinard was last week awarded $260,000 to settle her lawsuit over how she was treated following an incident with one of the troopers she supervised.
That isn't the first major award against NHP for problems in how the agency treats female officers and there is at least one more case in progress.
Kirkland said Kinard is now assigned to the highway patrol academy where one of her tasks will be to ensure all new troopers understand the policy on sexual harassment is zero tolerance.
"She came out of this with the right attitude," said Kirkland. "There is a willingness on her part to take a look at what took place and help fix it."
He said that means she will help develop training programs to get rid of gender discrimination problems at NHP and, in fact, help teach the new recruits.
Kinard was demoted after an incident involving a kiss between herself and Trooper Michael Ford. He claimed she initiated the kiss against his will. She said he initiated the incident.
But both state lawyers and Kinard's attorney Jack Kennedy say the kiss wasn't the core issue in the suit. Instead, it was how she was disciplined and treated afterward.
Her demotion, according to Kennedy, was far harsher punishment than any male trooper had ever received for similar conduct. Then, when she reapplied to become a sergeant, she was given a bad score on the oral portion of the exam - a subjective part of the test - where she had previously scored very high.
Kennedy said her demotion, her score on the new exam and other conduct by the department were clear evidence of retaliation within NHP.
The state settled rather than going to court. Deputy Attorney General Creighton Skau said the state concluded a jury was likely to believe her story, not the state's even though the opinion of state officials was that she initiated the kiss. He said NHP decided to "make an example" of Kinard to show it was no longer going to tolerate sexual misconduct but that it came out looking like retaliation.
Kennedy said that argument doesn't hold water and that Skau and the state know there was nothing noble or legal about the retaliation his client suffered.
"She sees him as the aggressor," said Kennedy. "She didn't initiate the kiss."
He added that, contrary to what Skau said, Ford failed his polygraph exam on the subject. while Kinard's conduct throughout was "professional." He said the state settled because they know NHP was wrong in how it handled the incident and treated Kinard afterward.
Kirkland too rejected the suggestion Kinard was at fault although he refused to specifically blame others involved in how she was treated saying that won't help fix the situation. And he made no defense for NHP's handling of the incident.
"I've already taken steps," he said, adding that NHP's entire attitude toward women officers will change.
"There will be no tolerance," said Kirkland, who received high marks for expanding the role of women while Reno Police Chief and as Washoe County Sheriff. "I have already taken several steps and decisive actions which have resulted in disciplinary actions or people retiring early."
That, said Kennedy, is one of the main reasons Kinard accepted a much lower dollar settlement than she could have won at trial - because Kirkland said he would work to fix the longstanding problems at NHP. Kennedy pointed out that NHP has only two women sergeants including Kinard. He said there are no females above that rank in NHP. He said two out of more than 130 officers above trooper is one of the worst ratios among 170 western states law enforcement departments.
He said Kirkland has promised that will change under his leadership and Kirkland confirmed that statement.
"The diversity, make up, the entire complexion of the highway patrol needs to reflect the make up of the community," said Kirkland. "We have to change how we hire, how we do our testing. We have to get very aggressive in recruiting women."
Kennedy said that is what his client wants and why she agreed to settle.