Former Omaha Police captain wins lawsuit against city, police chief
OPD Capt. Kathy Belcastro-Gonzalez was awarded $700,000; city plans to appeal
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A federal jury has sided with a precinct captain who sued the City of Omaha, saying she had been the target of retaliatory discrimination.
Starting deliberations on Friday, the jury awarded former Omaha Police Capt. Katherine Belcastro-Gonzalez lost wages and benefits Monday in the amount of $680,000 and $20,000 in other damages. She said OPD Chief Todd Schmaderer twice passed her over for a promotion; he said it was based on her poor performance on the job.
The city plans to appeal the decision, according to a statement from Matt Kuhse, Omaha’s city attorney.
“The jurors in the lawsuit filed by Kathy Belcastro-Gonzalez have returned a verdict against the City. While this decision is unfortunate, the City thanks the jurors for their service. Despite this verdict, the City maintains its position that Ms. Belcastro-Gonzalez was not promoted as a result of poor performance as a command officer. There was no retaliation by Chief Schmaderer. The City will appeal the verdict.”
After 27 years as a police officer and in charge of the southeast precinct — and the subject of an internal investigation — at the time she was fired by OPD Chief Todd Schmaderer.
In 2017, she filed a complaint with the mayor’s office regarding unlawful discrimination practices regarding the treatment of women by the police department. In 2019, she filed a complaint with the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission; she also sued the city and the police chief, alleging she was wrongly passed over for deputy chief after finishing first in testing.
Schmaderer has previously said it was a personnel matter. The city has said the department handled the promotions by the book and interviewed four candidates for every opening. The chief has said he didn’t always pick the candidate who tested at the top.
The attorney for Belcastro-Gonzalez says the former officer was simply standing up for women in the workplace, going back to an original complaint in 2010 and questioning how it was handled.
“This has been a big block on her career,” Attorney Tom White said. “The jury verdict will erase that; and so, it will make the world of difference.”
He said his client is happy about the outcome, emphasizing it’s not about the money.
“She’s elated. She doesn’t care about the money. They’ve gone through so much. The recovery of the reputation means everything to her,” White said.
According to court documents, Belcastro-Gonzalez was fired from her OPD job earlier this year after an internal investigation into allegations of misusing confidential departmental communications and emails. She says she was simply preserving copies of emails when it comes to job performance, the documents state.
She’s fighting that case in Douglas County District Court.
Belcastro-Gonzalez is currently second-in-command of security at Creighton University. She is also the wife of the Democratic nominee for Douglas County Sheriff, retired Omaha Police Deputy Chief Greg Gonzalez.
“We are living through a moment where police/community relations are fractured. Many don’t trust the police, but I have served with and managed more good cops than I can keep track of. I love policing and Omaha.
We have both fought for equality and professionalism in law enforcement. If we want to regain trust in our communities, our departments need to be run with honesty, integrity, and accountability. Women should never be afraid to say if they were harassed on the job. Women shouldn’t be afraid that they will be fired for telling the truth.
Today is a big sigh of relief. For the last 12 years, these deliberations have consumed our family. My wife served honorably in the Omaha Police Department for 28 years. She won countless awards. She is beloved in the community yet was retaliated against and fired for taking her concerns to high levels of city government. We stand by our jurors and support the 8-0 unanimous decision. Thanks to all the police officers who have supported us during this tumultuous time. God is good!
Digital Director Gina Dvorak contributed to this report.
Copyright 2022 WOWT. All rights reserved.