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Maria Ohl

Former Mason City Police Officer Maria Ohl in a photo from 2003.

MASON CITY — The Mason City Civil Service Commission will meet at noon Thursday to set a hearing date on an appeal by a former Mason City police officer who was terminated earlier this year.

Maria Ohl, an officer for 10 years, is appealing to be reinstated.

She has also filed a civil suit in federal district court charging sex discrimination, religion discrimination and retaliation.

In a deposition filed with the court, Ohl claims she has been subjected to “ongoing harassment and discriminatory treatment” because of her sex and has been denied numerous training and promotion opportunities that male counterparts with less experience have gotten.

She said men on the department have left her out of communications about suspects or cases, putting her safety at risk.

She said when she was part of the Narcotics Enforcement Team (NET), she asked for a smaller handgun because the one she had was hard to conceal against her smaller female frame. She never got it. About a month after she was reassigned from the NET, the department issued smaller guns to the male officers, according to her deposition.

She said she has repeatedly been subjected to inappropriate behavior, including a male officer who allegedly pointed an unloaded gun at her head and pulled the trigger; and several instances in which male officers talked about strip clubs and made lewd remarks about female body parts in her presence.

Further, she said, there were instances in which male officers made gestures towards her that were sexual in nature.

Ohl said when she complained to supervisors about discriminatory treatment, she was told to “go to lunch with them and work things out” or to switch assignments or go on a different work schedule.

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She said when she complained to then-Police Chief David Ellingson, he suggested she get counseling from the Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa Employee Assistance program. Ellingson resigned in 2007.

Ohl said when problems continued after her earlier complaints, she reported them to a police captain and to the city’s human resources manager. She learned none of her previous complaints had been reported.

Ohl further stated she was “reprimanded, yelled at and threatened” for stopping officers’ wives for traffic violations.

Regarding the religion discrimination, Ohl said in her deposition, “Repeated comments from other officers and supervisor about my religious practices also lead me to believe the decisions to deny me promotional opportunities and treat me differently may have been motivated by my religion and church association.”

City Administrator Brent Trout confirmed Ohl had been placed on administrative leave and then was terminated. He declined to comment further.

Lionel Foster, executive director of the Mason City Human Rights Commission, said Ohl filed a discrimination complaint with the commission in the spring of 2010.

“By law, an attorney can request to take over within 60 days of the filing, and that’s what happened in this case,” he said.

The civil suit was filed Nov. 24, 2010. 

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