An officer passed over for a job by Atkinson's police chief has lost her lawsuit against him and the city after learning he'd said he didn't think the community was "ready for a female police officer."

Rhonda Olson filed her lawsuit too late, a federal judge has ruled.

"It is unfortunate that the city's apparent and inexcusable discrimination may go unsanctioned, but the facts supporting the city of Atkinson's statute of limitations defense are clear," U.S. District Judge John Gerrard wrote in an order last week.

According to the lawsuit, filed in February in U.S. District Court in Lincoln, Olson applied for the police officer position in 2008.

At the time, she was a graduate of the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center, had an associate's degree in criminal justice, was a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and had extensive law enforcement experience.

But Police Chief Tim Larby hired a less-qualified man, his brother-in-law, who hadn't attended or graduated the state training academy. 

Olson thought it was nepotism, and Larby told her he simply selected the person "who he felt was the best fit."

But in a workers' compensation case last year, after she was injured on her job with the Yankton (South Dakota) Police Department, Olson learned a Yankton officer had talked with Larby as part of the background check before she was hired.

According to the officer's notes, Larby said he didn't think the community was "ready for a female officer and that wasn't a battle he was willing to take on," Olson's lawsuit alleged.

Attorneys for the city of Atkinson asked the judge to dismiss her case, arguing her deadline to file it started in 2008, when she wasn't hired.

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Olson's attorney, Kathleen Neary, argued that the clock should've started in May 2017, when she learned the real reason she wasn't hired.

But, in an order last week, Gerrard said the problem with Neary's argument is that it is contradicted by evidence that Olson had reason to believe she wasn't hired because of discrimination as early as 2011, when she sent a Facebook message to a friend about her belief.

"Simply put, there is evidence that Olson had actual knowledge of the gender discrimination and the true reason she was not hired," he said.

And he dismissed the case.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger.



Lori Pilger is a public safety reporter.

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