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Ex-Modesto Police Sergeant Sues City Over Alleged Discrimination

MODESTO — A former Modesto police sergeant has filed a lawsuit against the city claiming he was discriminated against, harassed and wrongly demoted because he is Mexican-American.

Charles “Carlos” Castro, 51, sued the city March 18 in Stanislaus County Superior Court. The lawsuit seeks economic and general damages, as well as attorney fees and legal costs.

According to the lawsuit:

Castro worked for the Police Department from February 1991 until December 2012, when he resigned because he found the discrimination intolerable. He started as an officer, was promoted to sergeant in September 2000 and promoted to lieutenant in August 2006.

He was the first Mexican- American in the department to be promoted to lieutenant. Castro and his attorneys claim he performed his job “competently and professionally and generally exceeded his employer’s expectations.”

Castro and his attorneys claim he was wrongfully demoted to sergeant in July 2007. They claim the Police Department denied his subsequent applications for promotion and subjected him to “offensive racial innuendoes, insinuations, jokes, posters, objects, cartoons and drawings.”

The lawsuit does not provide specific examples of discrimination or harassment.

Castro and his attorneys also assert the city allowed the Police Department to maintain a culture that discriminated against Mexican-Americans and other minorities and held them to a higher standard than nonminorities regarding promotions.

Castro is represented by the Modesto law firm of Rancaño & Rancaño.

“We have no comment on the case,” attorney David Rancaño said, “but we took a long, hard look at the facts and thoroughly vetted them.”

Rancaño said Castro would not comment for this story.

The lawsuit names former Police Chief Mike Harden, Capt. Joel Broumas, former Capt. Gene Balentine, former Sgt. Craig Plante, City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood and City Manager Greg Nyhoff as defendants.

Wood said by email that Castro filed a complaint with the city in 2012 alleging violations of the city’s harassment and discrimination policy. She said an investigation sustained some of the allegations and the city manager and police chief addressed them.

Wood said because the investigation was a personnel matter, she could not comment further. However, the California Public Records Act states that investigations of employee misconduct are public records, especially when the charges are found true and discipline has been imposed.

She said Castro filed a complaint in May 2012 with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging harassment, discrimination and retaliation based upon race, marital status and other grounds.

She said the city received a notice from the department in February that it had closed its investigation because Castro had withdrawn his complaint.

“The DFEH was unable to conclude that the information obtained established a violation of the statute,” Wood wrote in her email. “Mr. Castro then filed suit against the city … .”

The lawsuit states Castro received a right-to-sue letter from DFEH before filing his lawsuit.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.