Years-long sexual harassment case against Wyoming Highway Patrol ends in settlement

SHERIDAN — Sanderson v. Wyoming Highway Patrol, a federal sex discrimination lawsuit filed against WHP nearly four years ago, ended this month after the parties reached a settlement agreement. 

According to court documents, Delsa Brooke Sanderson became a trooper with the WHP in 2007, joining a handful of women officers among WHP’s ranks. At one point, Sanderson’s complaint alleged, she was one of six women among WHP’s 220 patrol officers. 

Appellate documents indicate Sanderson performed well for the first seven years of her career. She earned positive reviews, a commendation award and a nomination for trooper of the year.

Despite her performance, Sanderson said she endured considerable obstacles as a woman in WHP. 

Rumors swirled that she used sex to gain workplace advantages, such as a new patrol car, and colleagues called her the “division bicycle” to suggest Sanderson was sexually promiscuous. 

Sanderson claimed her treatment worsened after she joined WHP’s Division O, a select division tasked with providing security for the governor and state government officials, as a K9 handler in 2015. 

“When Sanderson joined the team,” the case’s appellate decision states, “some troopers expressed the view that ‘Division O as a whole does not accept females.’” 

In Division O, Sanderson claimed she was subject to the same rumors about her sexual history and invasive jokes as well as an added layer of unfriendliness. 

Other members of the division, Sanderson said, refused to acknowledge her as a member of the team. Sanderson alleges she complained to supervisors about this at least four times. 

In 2016, Sanderson was demoted from Division O to her previous position. 

WHP officials stated the demotion was due to Sanderson’s abrasive and abrupt nature and poor communication skills. Documents filed by the defendant state WHP had a “legitimate non discriminatory and nonretaliatory reason” for the demotion: Sanderson’s behavior had become unacceptable. One superior officer, defense documents indicate, listed 20 incidents of poor communication and abrasive behavior over a nine-month period resulting in Sanderson’s demotion.

Sanderson, meanwhile, believed the demotion was due to discrimination on the basis of sex. She filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — the federal agency responsible for enforcing federal nondiscrimination law — and Wyoming Fair Employment Program. 

“I was subjected to…unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature as well as other occasions where I was treated differently than my male colleagues,” Sanderson wrote in the EEOC complaint. 

The EEOC responded, according to documentation attached to Sanderson’s complaint, “you are hereby notified that you have the right to institute a civil action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” 

Title VII prohibits employers from refusing to hire, firing or denying employment privileges to an individual on the basis of sex, among other protected categories. Sanderson’s attorneys claimed Sanderson was subject to gender-based discrimination, gender-based retaliation and a hostile work environment while employed by WHP. 

Since its initial filing, Sanderson’s case has worked through several levels of the federal legal system, including a four-day jury trial in district court — during which jurors found the plaintiff’s sex was one among many motivating factors in Sanderson’s demotion — and a partial reversal and remanding by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Attorneys in the case were preparing to go to trial again until mid-November. 

On Dec. 9, however, the parties moved to dismiss the case.

“The parties, by and through their respective counsel, hereby inform the court that this matter has been resolved,” wrote plaintiff’s attorney Bruce Moats and WHP’s attorney Jesse Naiman. 

The parties settled the matter out of court.