Lawsuit: Female detective claims Wilton retaliated after her gender discrimination complaint

File photo

File photo

Hearst Connecticut Media /

WILTON — After nearly two years of tumult, Detective Eva Zimnoch’s suit against her police department remains in limbo.

In a detailed complaint that relates events beginning more than five years ago and still is pending, the only female detective in Wilton Police Department’s history outlined relations between herself, her coworkers and her bosses that have included formal human rights complaints, accusations of harassment and departmental investigations.

Eva Zimnoch

Eva Zimnoch


Zimnoch in a federal lawsuit filed nearly two years ago is seeking money to compensate for the damages she claims she suffered as a result of the alleged discrimination, including costs related to the lawsuit and damages for “emotional distress, loss of self-esteem and consequential damages” as well as punitive damages, according to the lawsuit.

In September 2016, Zimnoch accused her co-workers at the Wilton Police Department of harassment and gender discrimination.

In a complaint made to the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, Zimnoch alleged the department singled her out for the way she dressed. After entering into mediation in December 2017, she reached an administrative settlement with the town. The terms were never publicly disclosed.

Zimnoch, a 16-year veteran of the department and Wilton’s 2015 Officer of the Year, said she hoped the settlement would improve the working environment. Instead, things “in fact got worse,” she claims in a federal lawsuit accusing the town and the Wilton Police Department of gender discrimination and retaliation for her original complaint.

The suit, filed Nov. 26, 2019, and still tied up in filings, claims department superiors, peers and town administrators targeted Zimnoch — one of only two women to hold a rank higher than patrolman in the department — for coming forward and airing the department’s dirty laundry. On Sept. 1, 2021, the town filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss Zimnoch’s claims. The motion is still pending.

“I think it’s important for the people of Wilton to know that their police department, their detective bureau, is operating as this boys’ club, and Detective Zimnoch should not be punished for speaking out against it,” said Tony Pantuso, who represents Zimnoch in the lawsuit.

First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, although the town formally denied the allegations in a written response to the suit and the police department denied the allegations through a spokesman.

The lawsuit claims a pattern of retaliation against Zimnoch began before her original complaint was settled. The pattern included both serious allegations of her abilities and

remarks and actions by her coworkers and bosses, details from the suit show.

In 2017, Zimnoch was the only female member of the South Western Regional Response Team, a joint unit commanded by another Wilton officer.

On Sept. 17, 2017, she claims she was placed on the inactive list for the team after raising “several significant team member and public safety issues,” and in February 2018, she was removed from the team altogether after she missed a training period with what, in the lawsuit, she called “an uncontrollable illness.”

In the town’s response to Zimnoch’s complaint on Feb. 20, 2020, the town said the decision to remove her from the team was made because of “poor performance and for missing required training.”

Zimnoch claims in the lawsuit that she raised concerns about “several significant team member and public safety issues being routinely conducted by the team” but was “met with hostility, bias and discrimination.”

In addition to being removed from the specialized unit, Zimnoch claims in the lawsuit that she began to endure “harassment and retaliation” from the department’s other two detectives, Scott Sear and Kip Tarrant.

The lawsuit claims Sear and Tarrant hid the keys of the department copy machine, “block(ed) her from her parking spaces ... refus(ed) to work with her, as well as being subject to other unpleasantries and disparate treatment on a daily basis.”

Capt. Robert Cipolla, a spokesman for the department, said in a statement that the department “denies any wrongdoing alleged in the complaint.”

Both Sear and Tarrant declined to comment on the pending case.

Zimnoch’s suit claims Sear “continued not only to make demeaning and intimidating comments, but also began to refuse to work and speak” with her.

As her relationship with Sear allegedly deteriorated, Zimnoch reached out to her supervisors for help, according to the lawsuit.

The suit claims that’s when Cipolla — her supervisor — asked Zimnoch to “voluntarily step down” from her position as detective. Cipolla allegedly then told Zimnoch it was the “‘only thing (he) could think of’ to resolve the ongoing issues with Detective Sear’s improper behavior,” according to the complaint.

The town, however, said in its request for summary judgment, which was filed on Sept. 1, 2021, and is still pending, that Sear and Zimnoch were both given an option to “step down,” so as to resolve the alleged tensions between them.

In late 2017, around the time her original complaint was settled via mediation, Lt. Robert Kluk became a new supervisor in the department’s detective bureau.

Zimnoch said she tried to give Kluk advice — it was not stated in the suit what kind of advice or what the advice was — but she claims her effort was met with “criticism and hostility.”

Kluk declined to comment on the allegations.

Zimnoch claims in the suit that working conditions eventually got so bad that it began to take a toll on her health.

As her health suffered, Pantuso said, Zimnoch began using more sick time.

According to the suit, Cipolla warned Zimnoch that she could face “disciplinary action up to and including termination” over her use of sick time.

According to the Sept. 1 summary judgment request, Zimnoch’s attendance was flagged for “excessive absenteeism per department (policy).”

Zimnoch claims flagging her absenteeism created a standard that wasn’t applied to her male coworkers.

On May 4, 2018, the department placed Zimnoch on a Performance Improvement Plan.

Zimnoch claims in the suit that she was on the performance improvement plan for nearly three months, but was removed from it when she complained in a meeting with management and her union representative that “she felt she was being singled out and that their actions were retaliatory, discriminatory and biased.”

The town denies the performance improvement plan was retaliatory, discriminatory or biased.

Zimnoch claims she filed a number of “serious” complaints against Kluk, including one in which she claims he advised her to “find something wrong” with a transsexual police officer candidate and a separate incident where he allegedly “made very offensive and disturbing sexual comments about the female juvenile victim of a sexual assault.”

Kluk was cautioned for the second incident and had the incident placed in his training file, according to a motion filed by the town.

In a Feb. 1, 2019, meeting with Kluk and other detectives to discuss extra-duty jobs, Zimnoch claims she raised concerns she was being unfairly denied equal opportunities to earn extra money.

Zimnoch claims Kluk told her after the meeting that “her concerns were being ignored and that no one was helping her” because of her 2016 CHRO complaint. He continued to say the department “had instructions from town hall … not to help her,” according to the suit.

The town denies that claim.

On Feb. 6, 2019, Zimnoch filed another CHRO complaint and a similar complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about the continuing conflict.

Zimnoch was issued a formal written reprimand on March 13, 2019. That same day she was placed on paid administrative leave pending a “fitness for duty” examination.

On April 5, 2019, Zimnoch filed another complaint with CHRO and EEOC. The CHRO confirmed it granted Zimnoch a “release of jurisdiction” on both complaints, meaning she was free to pursue a civil lawsuit.

Zimnoch passed the exam and returned to work in June 2019.

The lawsuit said the repeated actions were taken with “malice and/or reckless indifference to Zimnoch’s federally protected rights” and have caused her “emotional and physical distress, damage to her reputation, as well as loss of enjoyment of life.”