April 15, 2022 – Special Agent in Charge R. Capello, one of the two highest-ranking women within California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Investigation, has filed a lawsuit against the DOJ alleging a persistent pattern of gender discrimination and retaliation. Capello, who has worked for the agency since 1999, alleges that her male superiors have repeatedly passed her over for promotion to Assistant Director positions, including when she was the highest ranking candidate. She claims the DOJ began to retaliate against her after she complained about inappropriate comments from her superior, threats from a co-worker and blew the whistle regarding mishandling of evidence at the Fresno Regional Office of the Bureau of Investigation.
The complaint filed by Capello this week in Sacramento Superior Court (R. Capello v. California Department of Justice, Case No. 34-2022-00318069) paints a disturbing picture of a “good ol’ boys club,” where favoritism and gender discrimination has resulted in a dearth of women in management positions. Since 2015, the Bureau has not had any women in sworn peace officer positions above the level of Special Agent in Charge, the position held by Capello. Currently, of the 110 Special Agents employed by the Bureau, only 12 are women, and of the 28 Special Agent Supervisors at the Bureau, only one is a woman.
Before filing a civil lawsuit, Capello reported the alleged discrimination and retaliation internally. In February 2018, after the Bureau of Investigation received her complaints, the agency removed Capello from her chain of command and assigned her to report to a civilian contract employee. The Bureau restored her to the regular command structure only after Capello took on the investigations of the high-profile police shooting of Stephon Clark, who was killed by Sacramento Police officers while Mr. Clark was standing in his grandmother’s backyard and holding a cell phone.
Capello, who holds a Masters’ degree in Criminology, joined the DOJ in 1999, as an agent. In 2010, she attained the rank of Special Agent in Charge and began to lead the Fresno Regional Office of the Bureau. In 2015, Capello raised concerns that she and the only other female SAC were treated less favorably than their male colleagues. She also reported serious mishandling of evidence and unprofessional behavior by an evidence specialist rumored to have close personal ties to the interim Chief of Department of Law Enforcement Agency. She alleges that in retaliation for her raising these issues, the Bureau stripped her of managerial duties and excluded her from management meetings. While the Bureau eventually restored some of Capello’s management duties, she claims in the lawsuit that the Bureau repeatedly passed her over for promotions in favor of men with lesser experience and qualifications and ignored or violated established procedures to do so.
Capello says that after spending seven years trying to internally address the problems at the Bureau, she concluded that a lawsuit was the only way to bring about change. “I love my job, but the way that I have been treated has been completely demoralizing and has made me miserable, and the repeated investigations into my conduct has been devastating,” said Capello. She added, “Absent a change in the culture at the Bureau and within the Office of the Chief, women will continue to be sidelined and the number of women in management positions will remain miniscule.”
Capello is represented by Sharon Vinick and Wendy Musell of Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams, a boutique law firm in Oakland representing plaintiffs in employment litigation. “Our firm has represented many women in nontraditional careers, yet I’m constantly surprised by the lengths that organizations will go to in order to keep these women from advancing. I would have hoped that the California Department of Justice would be an exception. It looks from the evidence we’ve reviewed in this case that even in a state as progressive as California, we still have a lot of work to do,” stated Sharon Vinick, attorney for Capello and managing partner of Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP. “It is critical that discrimination not be allowed to flourish, especially in the highest reaches of law enforcement in California. We need more brave law enforcement officers and investigators, like Ms. Capello, who are willing to come forward to expose mishandling of evidence and discriminatory practices. It makes all of us safer,” says attorney for Ms. Capello, Wendy Musell.