An RCMP officer who had an on-going affair with her boss — including having sex in a police car — shouldn't lose her job while her superior simply loses 10 days pay, her lawyer told an RCMP panel.
Larry McGonigal told the panel Wednesday it would be inappropriate and disconcerting for Const. Susan Gastaldo to be fired after the panel found her guilty of disgraceful conduct.
Her superior officer, Staff Sgt. Travis Pearson, has already been reprimanded and docked 10 days pay by the same panel after admitting to the affair and using a Blackberry to exchange suggestive emails.
But Gastaldo fought against the accusation and claimed she was coerced and sexually assaulted on more than one occasion.
The panel didn't believe her and suggested her punishment should be harsher than Pearson's because she denied the claim.
McGonigal said the disparity in penalties is too harsh.
"He is the supervisor, she is the subordinate. He gets a $4,000 fine. Are we really going to impose upon her loss of job, loss of income, pension, promotional opportunities, benefits in the range of $4 million?" he said. "That would be very disconcerting."
The panel will hand down its decision Thursday.
The board already ruled last December that Gastaldo, who has an anxiety disorder, wasn't truthful, her claim wasn't plausible, and she was only making the accusation because her husband found a Blackberry with email messages between her and Pearson.
"The board isn't convinced that a person who has been sexually assaulted would readily communicate with their assailant," board chairman John Reid said in his ruling.
Records show the pair spoke for a total of 48 hours over a three month period and exchanged 160 email messages, many of them romantic or sexual in nature.
Undermining public confidence
Gastaldo, who attended Wednesday's hearing, sat quietly beside her lawyer as he argued against her being fired.
McGonigal said if Gastaldo does lose her job, it would have a chilling effect for others who may want to come forward and could undermine public confidence in the justice system.
"Part of what we're facing in the RCMP currently is the fact that there is a great deal of sexual harassment that people have not complained about or that has not been handled properly," he said, referring to recent allegations of systemic harassment in a proposed class-action lawsuit by dozens of female RCMP officers.
Gastaldo has also launched a civil lawsuit against Pearson and the RCMP in connection to her case.
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson announced an investigation late last year into the harassment claims.
McGonigal said Pearson engaged in harassing Gastaldo, and even though she refuted him on at least three occasions, he didn't take no for an answer.
"Just as Commissioner Paulson sets out to tackle this sensitive issue, I suggest the board should tackle the issue with him," he said. "[The board] should not look to the consequence of dismissal or request for a resignation within 14 days."
The lawyers on both sides had previously suggested a reprimand and the loss of seven days pay for Gastaldo.
'This is about her credibility'
But Corp. Gregory Rose, the lawyer representing the RCMP's E Division in British Columbia, stood after McGonigal's submission to remind the board that this isn't about Gastaldo having an affair with her boss or having sex in a police car.
"This is about her credibility before the board and credibility of a police officer." he said. "Susan Gastaldo has never accepted responsibility for her actions."
Earlier on Wednesday, the panel rejected an attempt by McGonigal to have the findings of Gastaldo's case thrown out and a new hearing ordered.
He told the panel that because it heard evidence against Gastaldo when she wasn't present, she didn't get a fair hearing.
The two Mounties' hearings were divided and the panel accepted an agreed statement of facts in Pearson's case that McGonigal said his client disputes.