BILLINGS — A federal judge has ruled against a former Columbus police officer, who filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the department and city after he was fired in 2015 for allegedly sexually harassing a female dispatcher.
The ruling was made Friday in U.S. District Court in Billings by U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Cavan, who found that the former Columbus police chief and the mayor acted appropriately when they fired former Sgt. Paul Caraway.
Caraway was first placed on paid administrative leave amid an investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed a dispatcher and other women.
Caraway allegedly made comments about the dispatcher’s butt, including “asking her for sex, asking to see her breasts and genital area, etc.,” according to a letter written by the former police chief to the Montana Public Safety Officer Standards and Training Council. “This eventually escalated into him forcing her to touch his penis. All these incidents occurred while Caraway was on duty in uniform. Several incidents occurred in the dispatch area while the dispatcher was on duty also.”
Questioned about the allegations, Caraway denied he ever violated department policy and characterized his interactions with the women as “joking around.”
After his firing, Caraway claimed he was not provided with a post-termination hearing that he is entitled to the by U.S. Constitution, according to court his complaint.
But the attorney representing the police department and city argued that Caraway was provided with notice and an opportunity to contest his termination before he was terminated but he chose not to.
The judge agreed, finding that the city did comply with the requirement of due process.
“To the extent Caraway maintains that his failure to avail himself of his post-termination remedies is excused by his alleged ignorance of the process, he is mistaken,” said the judge in his ruling.
Caraway also claimed that he was never given an opportunity to contest stigmatizing information that was placed in his personnel file and made public.
The judge, though, ruled that a discharged employee is not entitled to a separate name-clearing hearing.
“Caraway had the full opportunity to appeal his case to the Columbus Police Commission,” said the judge in his ruling. “Had he done so, he would have had the right to a full evidentiary hearing, and the additional right to appeal any commission decision to state district court.”
Caraway had also claimed that the former chief of police violated personnel policy by failing to involve the mayor in Caraway’s post-suspension interview and failing to properly investigate a 2009 sexual harassment complaint against Caraway.
The judge found Caraway’s claims do not correctly describe the personnel policy of the department.
Caraway recently sought to add another claim to his complaint, but the judge found that Caraway did not file that request until after the deadline.
A settlement conference in August of 2017 ended without an agreement because the city and police department were not willing to pay Caraway’s demands.
Now the case is effectively closed in the favor of the city and the department.
It’s unclear if Caraway will appeal the judge’s ruling.