Chief’s Porn Comments Result In Loss Of His Job

The opinion of the Montana Supreme Court in a case involving Colstrip Police Chief Larry Reinlasoder starts off with a bang: “‘You ain’t getting s––– for Christmas! I’ve just examined your computer and it’s full of porn, you f pervert,’ read a captioned picture of Santa Claus attached to a December 2007 office email from Reinlasoder, one of many instances of misconduct cited by Colstrip when it discharged Reinlasoder from his position as Colstrip’s Chief of Police on May 22, 2012.” Reinlasoder had been chief since 2004.

The other instances of misconduct alleged by the City included a September 2009 email which contained “pornographic pictures of men and women in various stages of sexual intercourse, lying about his work history on his job application, an accusation of criminal mischief by the Rosebud County Sheriff’s Office, insubordinate conduct, intimidating a female dispatcher to the point that she ‘no longer [felt] comfortable in dispatch without someone else being present,’ and, finally, sexual harassment of a female dispatcher.” When the City fired him, Reinlasoder sued.

A jury returned a verdict for Reinlasoder, awarding him $300,000 in damages, and the City appealed, contending that there was no basis for the jury’s verdict as Reinlasoder failed to contest that he had sexually harassed an employee. The Supreme Court agreed, and overturned the verdict.

The Court noted that “at trial, Reinlasoder factually contested many of the City’s allegations. However, such factual disputes do not render judgment as a matter of law inappropriate where there are facts not in dispute that provide good cause for discharge from employment. The dispatcher’s testimony, corroborated by two other officers, established she was sexually harassed by Reinlasoder when, in the workplace, he invited her to view pornography with him because he thought she looked like ‘a freaky kind of girl that would like porn.’ When Reinlasoder was given the opportunity to deny that this sexual harassment took place, he repeatedly stated he ‘could not recall.’ Reinlasoder’s equivocation does not create a material issue of fact.

“Reinlasoder argues that his cross-examination of the dispatcher created a material issue of fact with regard to the sexual harassment incident. First, Reinlasoder argues the dispatcher stated in her deposition that the incident occurred on February 29th, but her letter stated it occurred on March 6th. However, Reinlasoder fails to articulate how this inconsistency created an issue of material fact. The crucial material fact was whether Reinlasoder made the comments to the dispatcher. Reinlasoder’s questions on cross-examination did not dispute that the sexual harassment occurred, but only whether it occurred on February 29th or March 6th.

“The uncontested evidence showed Reinlasoder sexually harassed the dispatcher. Reinlasoder failed to meet his burden of presenting evidence, and not mere speculation, contesting the allegation. Sexual harassment is unquestionably a legitimate business reason or reasonable job-related grounds for dismissal that satisfies the good cause standard. Sexual harassment is against public policy.”

Reinlasoder v. City of Colstrip, 2016 WL 3911486 (Mont. 2016).