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Caledonia police Sgt. Robert Kittel filed a complaint last week against the command staff in his department alleging that age discrimination is behind a recent demotion and negative job performance review.
Named in the complaint are Chief Toby Schey, Capt. Dan Warren, and Lt. Brian Wall.
In papers filed Thursday with the state Department of Workforce Development, Equal Rights Division, Kittel says the alleged discrimination began in this past January shortly after he received a positive performance evaluation in which he met or exceeded most expectations and received an outstanding rating for one.
Senior officers are accused of pressuring Kittel, a 28-year veteran of the department, to retire and exaggerating points of concern about his job performance without any concrete procedures or department rules cited as proof of violation.
“In my opinion, I think they’re trying to push me out because there are younger people ready to move up,” he told the Racine County Eye over the weekend. “In a small department, though, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for promotion.”
Racine County Eye reached out Saturday in an email to Schey, Warren, and Wall for comment, but Lt. Gary Larsen – who is not named in the complaint – said the department couldn’t comment.
“We can’t comment at this time,” he said via email.
Schey told RCE Monday that he was unaware that Kittel had filed a complaint so he couldn’t comment on it. He did say he is proud of his department overall.
“I am proud of the standards we have in our department,” he said. “I have not received a copy of Sgt. Kittel’s complaint so I can’t comment at this time.”
Kittel obtained counsel after receiving a summons on a April 17 to appear at a disciplinary hearing on April 21, during which Wall read a six-page letter dated April 12 highlighting specific incidents when Kittel fell short of his duties, according to the complaint the Sgt. filed with the state.
“The date of Lt. Wall’s letter is dated only 10 days after Chief Schey signed off on my positive performance evaluation,” Kittel’s complaint reads. “I had no knowledge there were any concerns about my performance prior to this … interrogation.”
With his complaint Kittel included a copy of the response he forwarded to police command staff in which he responded to each of the allegations contained in Wall’s letter and asked for a meeting to develop a strategy for moving forward.
“To this day, I have not heard anything from Lt. Wall, Capt. Warren or Chief Schey,” Kittel stated.
As a result of Wall’s letter and a documented occasion when he was late for court, Kittel says he was demoted from first shift to third/second swing shift effective May 9. The swing shift means he worked third shift for three days and second shift for two days, reporting for second shift the same day the final third shift ends.
His vacation time was reduced and Community Oriented Police duties were eliminated, Kittel says in his complaint. He also says he was subjected to a pattern of harassment from members of the department’s command staff that ended last month when he went on medical leave because of a negative evaluation administered by Wall.
“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Kittel explained. “I just couldn’t take any more of the hostile work environment they created.”
Kittel says his schedule change has wreaked havoc with his personal, professional and civic lives. His son – who has Autism – has been particularly effected by Kittel being home less than he was when he worked during the day. He said filing the complaint was not how he wanted the situation at work to go.
“This is not the road I wanted to go down, but I was feeling like the writing was on the wall with all the comments being made,” Kittel added. “At heart, I’m a beat cop and if work needs to get done, then I jump in. I’ve always been fair and believe I’ve made a difference during 23 years of doing the job the same way I’ve always done.”
Kittel will remain on leave, he said, until his doctor feels he can handle the stress of returning to work, but he fears the situation will only get resolved with an early retirement.
“I was planning on retiring in January 2016, when I’m 55, and going out on a high note,” he said. “Now I feel like I’m going out with my head hung low instead.”