An airport police officer who said he was denied several promotions because he reported a fellow officer’s alleged inappropriate behavior has won another chance to prove his case, according to a Minnesota Court of Appeals decision released this week.
A lawsuit filed last year in Hennepin County District Court by Officer Bradley Wingate said the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which owns and operates the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, violated a Minnesota law that protects whistleblowers.
Spokesman Patrick Hogan said the MAC is “weighing all our options for moving forward with the case. We can’t comment on details of the case at this point since it involves active litigation.” The MAC’s airport police department employs 100 officers.
Wingate’s attorney, Lucas Kaster of Minneapolis, said “after being denied nine promotions over the span of five years despite a great work history, my client is excited his claims will be heard by a jury.” Wingate has been a member of the department for 14 years.
The dispute dates back to a social gathering outside of work in 2010. Court documents say another officer, Roby Desubijana, took photographs of officers there and altered the images “to depict homosexual pornography.”
The images were shared with several officers at work, including Wingate, the opinion said. Shortly after, Desubijana allegedly took a photograph of Wingate changing his clothes in the men’s locker room. Wingate reported the incidents to his bosses.
A mediation resulted in a warning that Desubijana “refrain from further inappropriate behavior,” documents said.
Wingate’s subsequent performance evaluation suggested he struggled communicating with peers and supervisors, an assessment he says was retaliation for reporting Desubijana.
In 2012, Wingate applied for a promotion to sergeant. When considering promotions, the department ranks officers based on interviews, written work and job reviews. Desubijana was promoted; Wingate was not.
In July of that year, members of the department traveled to Iowa for training, where Desubijana allegedly photographed a colleague in the shower. As punishment, supervisors designated Desubijana as the “sober driver” for the team’s final night of celebration, documents state.
After the Iowa training, Desubijana recorded a video of a sergeant wearing a towel in the department’s locker room, and posted it on a private YouTube channel, accessible to employees, according to court documents. The opinion said the sergeant, who is not named, reported the incident, but Desubijana was not disciplined.
Wingate complained after Desubijana contacted Wingate’s girlfriend on Facebook in late 2012, documents said. Desubijana later received a five-day unpaid suspension.
The MAC’s human resources department launched an investigation at Wingate’s behest, and Desubijana was suspended for two additional days, court documents say.
Desubijana could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Between 2013 and 2017, Wingate unsuccessfully applied for several promotions. When Wingate told MAC Police Chief Mike Everson that he was a victim of retaliation, he was allegedly told to “move on.”
In January 2018, Wingate filed suit, saying the MAC’s alleged retaliation violated Minnesota’s whistleblower law.
MAC lawyers said Wingate had failed to legally prove he was the target of retaliation, and the lower court agreed. But Wingate appealed.
In its opinion, the appeals court wrote, “Wingate’s positive performance history throughout his career casts genuine doubt upon MAC’s stated reason for not promoting him to sergeant.”