Sergeant’s Sexual Relationship With Subordinate Results In Termination

In 2012, a massive sex scandal rocked the City of Lakeland, Florida’s Police Department. The scandal resulted in multiple terminations and the resignation of Police Chief Lisa Womack. At the heart of the scandal was Sue Eberle, a civilian crime scene analyst who admitted to having sexual relations with over 30 City employees, over half of whom were Lakeland police officers.

The West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA) challenged the termination of School Resource Sergeant Russell Longaberger, one of the officers identified by Eberle. An arbitrator denied the grievance and refused to reinstate Longaberger.

The Arbitrator began by indicating that he was going to limit himself to consideration of the conduct admitted by Longaberger – that he had twice had sex with Eberle while they were attending Department-sponsored schools in Orlando, and that during work hours he had engaged in conversations and phone calls with Eberle to arrange meetings for sexual relations.

The Arbitrator stressed that “the proven sexual encounters of Grievant and Eberle were part of a massive sex scandal involving Police Department employees, which brought the Department into disrepute and created a public crisis of confidence in its law enforcement function. Although Grievant attempted to cast Eberle as the aggressor and himself as the victim who was seduced by her, he failed to either report her actions or the inappropriate sexual encounters, which he was duty bound to do. The argument could be made that if Grievant had not failed in this obligation, it is possible that other employees would not have been swept up into the same sex scandal which resulted in his and Eberle’s termination.”

The PBA pointed to the fact that both sexual encounters were off duty, consensual, and in the privacy of a hotel room. The Arbitrator held that “while that is true, it is well established arbitral precedent that management may discipline employees for off-duty conduct if there is a nexus between the conduct and the employer’s legitimate business interest.

“This was not a pure and simple off-duty consensual sex case. Both employees were in Orlando at Department-sponsored schools and were being kept in hotels at the expense of the public. Grievant was there as a representative of the Police Department and had a duty to comply with the Department’s general orders on supervisory duties and the code of conduct. Government employees, and even more so law enforcement employees (and especially law enforcement supervisors), are held to the highest standards of conduct. When a law enforcement officer is engaged in off-duty misconduct, the interest of the law enforcement agency is particularly great, in light of the damage to its image that occurs in the eyes of the public which it serves.”

In The Matter Between City of Lakeland, Florida & West Central PBA, FMCS No.: 14-00366-3 (Baroni, 2014).