Shelley McKerren began her career in law enforcement on a trailblazing note. In 1971, she became the first woman cadet in the history of the Brea Police Department. Decades later, McKerren continued to make inroads, joining the Anaheim Police Department in 1995 and later getting promoted as the first-ever civilian division commander on the force. The Behind the Badge blog deemed her a “rarity” in an Apr. 2016 profile piece in outlining all her achievements.
But the groundbreaking promotion came with an unspoken backstory. Just a few months after the write up, McKerren retained legal representation with the intent to file a a complaint against the city and its police department. The following year, she lodged a $5 million lawsuit alleging gender discrimination, unequal pay and retaliation.
Things seemingly began honest enough. According to court documents, McKerren worked as police communications manager before her immediate supervisor said she needed to temporarily fill in as an information technology (IT) manager in 2000, a workload described in the complaint as “another 40 plus hours a week assignment.” McKerren asked a captain and then-chief Roger Baker how the department planned to pay her for more work, but didn’t get any real response. It wouldn’t be the last time.
The temporary assignment turned out to last longer than four-and-a-half years. By 2013, another captain asked McKerren if she’d be interested in being promoted to division commander, a civilian equivalent of a captain. It’d entail schedule changes, being on-call around the clock and having to show up to all APD events. The prospects of an earlier retirement ultimately persuaded McKerren to accept the promotion and she became the only woman in the Chief’s Executive Committee (CEC) under interim-police chief Raul Quezada at the time (only one another woman has ever held such distinction).
McKerren had to maintain her IT manager responsibilities while taking on a new work load as division commander. For the latter, she had similar duties to carry out as her male counterparts, the suit alleges but didn’t receive a pay raise with the promotion. The department reportedly kept McKerren under her old IT manager job classification with Quezada failing to redress her repeated complaints about pay. Instead, he continued to make her “work dual assignments,” and “assign her extra projects to complete,” all with stricter timelines, it’s alleged in later court documents.
When the department finally got around to fixing McKerren’s salary and job title, nearly three years had passed without her receiving an estimated $157,039.01 in back pay she believed was owed to her. And it didn’t fully correct her workplace grievances, either. “The department still refused to raise Commander McKerren’s pay grade to the level that was similar to the male Division Commanders who were performing substantially similar duties,” court documents allege. Continued complaints to Quezada only resulted in more of the same; increased work projects under strict timelines.
But the lengthy, at times cumbersome, 56-page suit not only outlines McKerren’s case for gender pay discrimination, it also paints a revealing portrait of a chaotic department on the cusp of a “no confidence ” vote against Quezada that led to his early retirement last year.
A flash point came in October 2016 when captain Jarret Young filed a complaint that surfaced in the media against Quezada and then-deputy chief Dan Cahill for alleged time card theft. Behind the scenes, McKerren details a frayed department during that time. “We cannot allow those who lie and/or fabricate falsehoods impact who we are and what we have sworn to do,” Quezada is alleged to have written at the end of a staff-wide email days after Young’s whistleblower complaint. That and another similar email alleged to have alluded to the investigation prompted the civilian commander, in part, to lawyer up for her own grievances.
Later on that month, McKerren claims that deputy chief Julian Harvey came into her office; Young joined them shortly after. “They are looking at you, to see if they can find anything you two have done wrong,” Harvey is said to have told the pair with regards to Quezada, Cahill and the city. “Do not trust anyone! At least the bathmat is out in the sunlight, so the information has been exposed.”
Other incidents the following year are outlined in the suit to bolster McKerren’s discrimination claims. Through Harvey, she learned that Quezada didn’t want her to work on a body-worn cameras project since he “wanted it done right.” On staff picture day, the chief communicated through Harvey that he didn’t want her wearing any insignia, much less the captain bars she previously asked for. He also allegedly tried to thwart McKerren from receiving the Molloy Career Achievement Award but failed–an honor Young had nominated her for.
In June 2017, the city cleared Quezada and Cahill of any wrongdoing with regards to the time card theft case. They hired an outside firm with attorney Irma Rodriguez Moisa largely handling investigatory responsibilities at the onset; the Weekly previously reported that Quezada and Cahill previously had dinner with her during a California Police Chiefs Association Annual Training Symposium. The suit describes the investigator as a friend of Cahill’s.
A month later, McKerren learned of a move that prompted the suit to sound an alarm about an alleged relationship between the chief and a key city staffer. “Quezada’s long time girlfriend, City Clerk, Linda Andal, had been promoted to the position of Interim City Manager,” it reads. The suit claims city council bypassed then-assistant city manager Kristine Ridge and deputy city manager Greg Garcia, both senior staff, when casting a unanimous vote during closed session on July 11, 2017.
The timing of Andal’s interim appointment is framed as by no means incidental. McKerren feared that internal complaints against Quezada, like Young’s and her own, would be quelled before the prospects of a “no confidence” vote could materialize against him. “In other words, because the Interim City Manager would handle all disciplinary matters such as this one, for the Chief,” the suit explains. On Aug. 7, 2017, the Anaheim Police Association levied its vote against Quezada anyway; McKerren had her lawsuit filed in court nine days later.
In late October, Quezada accepted a $750,000 settlement for a claim he filed against the city citing an “intolerable” workplace in exchange for his retirement at 48. Harvey became interim police chief in the aftermath. The city hired an outside consultant to help find a permanent replacement. Andal joined the process for a final round of interviews for three candidates, one that ended with an outsider, Jorge Cisneros, being appointed in June to lead the department. Harvey didn’t make it that far (Andal returned to being city clerk this year with the hiring of Chris Zapata as city manager).
McKerren retained new legal representation earlier this year. In addition to records supporting her compensation claims, her lawyers are now seeking police documents that show evidence of gender discrimination and retaliation on the belief that complaints against Quezada exist on both counts. Attorneys for the city countered in recent court documents that the request is nothing more than a “fishing expedition,” and a “blatant effort to obtain any document that might tarnish the reputation of the alleged ‘villain’ of her story, then-Police Chief Raul Quezada.”
They dismiss McKerren’s claims as being without merit, citing an admitted pay raise and alluding to her civilian, non-sworn status, while arguing that any disclosure of documents should be subject to a protective court order.
The case continues with a Dec. 6 court date in Santa Ana over the fight for police records. A jury trial is set for May 19, 2019 before Orange County Superior Court Judge James Crandall.
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!