Lawsuit against California Department of Justice alleges agency discriminated and retaliated against high-ranking female Special Agent


Vinick Hyams LLP and co-counsel Law Office of Wendy Musell represent Special Agent in Charge R. Capello, one of the two highest-ranking women within California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Investigation, in her lawsuit against the DOJ. The lawsuit alleges 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.  Her complaint, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, describes how 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.

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 of Vinick Hyams LLP and Wendy Musell of Law Office of Wendy Musell, two Oakland-based law firms representing plaintiffs in employment litigation. The case is set to go to trial in the fall of 2024.

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