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DMPD employees explain what led them to sue the department

A lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses the department of perpetuating and encouraging male officers to sexually harass or demoralize some female officers.

DES MOINES, Iowa — A lawsuit filed against the Des Moines Police Department (DMPD) Tuesday by employees accuses the department of accepting, perpetuating, fostering and encouraging male officers to sexually harass or demoralize some of its female officers since the 1990s. 

The lawsuit lists Jessica Bastian, Shannon Duffy, Megan Burnhardt, Cindy Donahue, and Tracy Rhoads as DMPD employees who claim they were sexually harassed and retaliated against because they are women.

It also names the man allegedly behind many of the claims as Stew Barnes, a former DMPD officer and the union president.

“Anything that wasn’t appropriate between two coworkers I was not okay with. And that wasn’t enough to stop him," Bastian told Local 5's Lakyn McGee. 

She said Barnes would contact her through her personal phone.

“Sending these messages, these innuendos, these disgusting photos that are very explicit," said Bastian.

RELATED: Four female DMPD employees allege harassment in a lawsuit

The City of Des Moines released a statement contradicting the women, saying that officials did their due diligence to address the complaints. It reads in part: 

"These employees did not report the misconduct to the City as is required of all employees by policy. Consistent with state and federal law, when the City became aware of the behavior, the City immediately and thoroughly investigated the allegations and took all necessary remedial steps...

"... The City of Des Moines Human Resources professionals were made aware of the investigation, participated in the interviews and conducted a follow-up meeting with the plaintiffs.  At the conclusion of the investigation, Chief Wingert determined that the misconduct occurred and that he would have terminated the offending officer.  

"Other employees were disciplined for their failure to follow City of Des Moines policy for reporting conduct of this nature. Contrary to plaintiffs’ complaints, the City does not have the authority to prevent the offending officer from resigning or receiving pension benefits.  

Jill Swagerman, an attorney for the women, said her clients did talk to the right people. 

“The problem is that those people in charge didn’t do what they should have done in order to properly address this," said Swagerman.

RELATED: Report: Air Force women, minorities face harassment and bias

Cynthia Donahue, a 30 year veteran on the force, said she was passed over for promotion and received retaliation because she's female.

“One of our main goals is to make this a better place to work and make it female friendly and have females valued, rather than just tolerated," said Donahue.

DMPD Sgt. Paul Parizek said the department can't talk about pending litigation. 

Over the last 12 months, DMPD hired nine new females and 39 new males. 

Four women were promoted the same year. To date, there are eight male captains and one female captain. Currently, there are 319 sworn males and 46 sworn females on the force.

Bastian and Donahue said the lawsuit is aimed at taking female employees and co-workers seriously.

Swagerman explained the hope is to bring on better policy, procedures, training and disciplinary outcomes.

Read the full lawsuit below

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