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Decorated sheriff's deputy sues San Mateo County over workplace sexual harassment, assault

Superiors alleged to have targeted female SWAT team member in unending campaign to demean, assault and force her to resign, lawsuit claims
San Mateo County Sheriff and Superior Court in Redwood City on Feb 3, 2021.

The only woman on the San Mateo County Sheriff's SWAT team, Deputy Carryn Barker who leads the sex crimes unit, has filed a lawsuit in San Mateo County Superior Court alleging that she was repeatedly sexually harassed by her male superiors and denied rightful accommodation to care for her ailing mother.

The lawsuit, which was filed on Nov. 9, includes allegations of demeaning verbal treatment, retaliation, failure by the department to prevent harassment and an outright sexual assault when her supervisor allegedly tackled her to the ground, pinning her and grabbing her inappropriately in front of her male colleagues.

Barker's lawsuit alleges a harrowing display of abuse by her superiors that caused her so much emotional distress she ended up in a hospital emergency room with a stress migraine. It temporarily blinded her, according to the lawsuit.

County attorneys for the Sheriff's Office could not immediately be reached for comment.

A decorated sheriff's deputy with six years of experience, Barker has received multiple awards for her service, including the Medal of Honor, which is the highest honor awarded within law enforcement for extreme bravery, courage and devotion to duty. She leads the sex crimes unit. She is the only woman on the San Mateo County SWAT team and the only female detective in her unit. One lieutenant referred to her as a “rockstar,” according to the lawsuit.

But despite her accomplishments, Barker allegedly faced a "boys’ club" within the department, "where sexism and corruption exist throughout the organization. High-ranking men who work at SMCSO openly engage in sexist behavior at work with encouragement from other senior men at SMCSO, none of whom face any meaningful repercussion," the lawsuit claims.

"The Sheriff's Office boys’ club not only covers up the bad behavior of its harassers and assailants, but it also elevates them to even higher positions of authority," according to the lawsuit.

The legal complaint alleges multiple instances in which men in positions of power within the Sheriff's Office openly viewed pornography, made sexual and demeaning remarks and harassed multiple female employees. In at least one case, the continuous harassment led one female employee to quit her job.

Barker, too, faced escalating harassment starting in 2018 after she joined the SWAT team, which is composed of an elite group of deputies assigned to incidents requiring advanced skills.

According to the lawsuit, Sgt. Andre Moniot allegedly directed sexual remarks and wisecracks at Barker to the extent that other deputies joked about what kind of comments he had made each day. Yet, supervisors didn't do anything to address the sexual harassment despite complaints made by Barker and another deputy.

In August 2021, Moniot’s sexual harassment allegedly escalated to sexually assaulting Barker in front of their colleagues during a gathering of the SWAT team. Moniot allegedly made a rude comment to Barker, who responded that she didn't appreciate the comment. Moniot then allegedly grabbed Barker, wrestled her to the ground and pinned her in front of their colleagues. He also allegedly grabbed her anatomy inappropriately during the incident.

At least one member of the SWAT team submitted a written statement confirming that Moniot touched Barker inappropriately, but no one intervened and Moniot was never punished, according to the lawsuit.

Other male supervisors allegedly began a campaign to get Barker to resign. They assigned her large volumes of work and insisted that she complete the work in unreasonably short timeframes. They told her to “suck it up” when she asked for additional support for the sex crimes unit, according to the complaint.

The supervisors also knew that Barker, who is a single mother, was caring for her 2-year-old son and her disabled mother and needed "flex time." They refused to grant her the time while they allowed male detectives to take flex time without comment, according to the lawsuit.

The supervisors also allegedly interfered with Barker's ability to use her Family Medical Leave Act rights to care for her mother, who has Parkinson's disease. They allegedly retaliated against her by falsely accusing her of fraud on her work time and required her to send daily text messages informing them when she would be leaving and arriving at work, according to the lawsuit.

Barker's complaints were ignored, delayed or brushed off by her human resources caseworker, the lawsuit claims. In all, she had filed four complaints about the harassment, but she still faced daily retaliation. None of the men involved in these behaviors were punished or reprimanded.

Although Barker was forced to make three interviews with internal affairs investigators, in November 2022, more than a year after the assault by Moniot, she learned he would not be placed on administrative leave for his alleged sexual assault and harassment. Multiple officers said they witnessed the behavior, according to the lawsuit.

Barker received a letter approving her right to sue from the California Civil Rights Department under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act on Nov. 8. Barker previously filed administrative complaints with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, a prerequisite that found she had probable cause to file a lawsuit.

The next day, Barker filed the lawsuit against the county for: a hostile work environment, harassment based on sex; discrimination based on sex; retaliation; failure to prevent harassment; and failure to accommodate in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The suit asks for unspecified damages in excess of $25,000.