Denver to pay $200,000 to settle lawsuit alleging retaliation

The Denver City Council on Monday approved a $200,000 payment to settle a lawsuit that alleges county court officials failed to investigate and then retaliated against a judicial assistant who reported that a judge sexually assaulted and harassed her.

In a lawsuit filed against the city in 2020, the attorneys for the assistant laid out her encounter with then-Judge Andrew Armatas in the summer of 2016. The Denver Post is not identifying the woman as she is the victim of an alleged sexual assault.

Armatas had such a reputation for unwanted advances and physical contact with female court staff that he was known around that time as “Judge Touchy Feely,” the lawsuit alleges. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The day Armatas allegedly assaulted her, the assistant was working for a different judge when Armatas came into that judge’s courtroom. After asking when the presiding judge would be back, Armatas told the woman, “You look like you like to get dirty. You look like you could get wild,” the lawsuit alleges. He then kissed her and touched her breasts before she screamed at him and he left the room, according to the allegations made in the lawsuit.

The woman reported the incident to her immediate supervisor that same day, but, after two years, court leadership still had not taken action, her attorneys said.

In July 2018, the assistant reported Armatas to human resources and the Denver Police Department and the city retained Employment Matters, an outside consulting firm, to investigate the judge’s conduct, according to the lawsuit.

Through interviews conducted by Employment Matters, it was uncovered that Armatas had a pattern of acting inappropriately with female court staff, including asking some court staff out for drinks, asking for their phone numbers and even touching them without their consent, the lawsuit said.

The assistant eventually took her complaints to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Colorado Civil Rights Division before filing her lawsuit.

She alleged that she was given a 15-day unpaid suspension under false pretenses for reporting the judge. In January 2019, she was fired. The reason given, according to the lawsuit, was that her allegations against Armatas were false and dishonest.

The lawsuit alleged that the assistant was discriminated against by the city of Denver based on her race, gender and age. She was over 40 and is of Mexican American descent.

“Defendant treated Plaintiff differently because of her gender, national origin and age than the way it treated male, non-Hispanic and younger employees,” the lawsuit says.

The council on Monday approved the $200,000 payment, meant to cover damages and attorneys’ fees in the case, without comment. It was approved as part of a unanimous block vote, signaling a lack of controversy and broad support.

Barry Roseman, one of the attorneys who represented the assistant in the case, declined to comment when reached by phone.

Armatas is not listed as a current Denver Court judge. Court staff did not reply to an email seeking further information about the status of Armatas, who was appointed to the bench in 1990.

The lawsuit indicates the Denver Police Department investigated the woman’s allegations against Armatas, but there are no court records indicating he was charged.

Court Administrator Kristin Wood said in a statement that the two parties to the lawsuit wanted to resolve the matter “without further protracted litigation.”

“Both parties stand by their respective litigation positions and neither party has admitted liability or merit to any of the claims or defenses now pending in litigation,” Wood said.

The settlement comes after the Colorado Judicial Department was rocked by allegations of misconduct going overlooked. An independent investigation summarized in a report released last year found that employees in the state-level court system feared retaliation if they reported misconduct.

Seven former and current employees of the Colorado Judicial Branch told The Post in 2021 that sexism was pervasive in their workplace.

Denver Post staff writer Shelly Bradbury contributed to this report.

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