Restoration NewsMedia

Former police chief sues Rolesville, alleging hostile work environment

Orlando Soto, claims he suffered severe emotional distress due to hostile, demeaning and discriminatory treatment from town leadership. Image by succo from Pixabay

ROLESVILLE — A former Rolesville police chief is suing leadership in the town over alleged discrimination and a hostile work environment, a lawsuit says. 

The plaintiff, Orlando Soto, claims he suffered severe emotional distress due to hostile, demeaning and discriminatory treatment from town leadership. The lawsuit, filed Aug. 8, names the town of Rolesville, Town Manager Kelly Arnold, Mayor Ronnie Currin, the Board of Commissioners and Finance Director Amy Stevens. 

Soto seeks a jury trial, unspecified damages and reimbursement of legal fees.

The lawsuit says Soto was denied the constitutional right to “enjoy the fruits of one’s labor and equal protection under the law.” 

In a statement Aug. 22, the town said it was carefully reviewing the lawsuit but otherwise had no comment on it. The statement emphasized the town’s condemnation of discrimination and harassment in the workplace. 

“The Town believes that all employees should have the opportunity to work in an environment that is free from discrimination, conducive to their professional growth and has comprehensive training programs for employees and administration on diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace,” the statement said.

The Wake Weekly tried to reach Arnold for comment but was referred to the town statement.

Soto joined the Rolesville Police Department in 2015 and was appointed chief in summer of 2017, after serving as interim chief earlier that year. The lawsuit claims Soto was well-regarded as a chief and employee, but problems began after Arnold became town manager in 2018.

The lawsuit alleges Arnold treated Soto, who is Hispanic, differently from his white peers and held him to a higher standard. The lawsuit claims Arnold harassed Soto by frequently visiting him at unannounced times and telling hurtful jokes at Soto’s expense. 

Lawyer Anabel Rosa, who is representing Soto, said her client believes an injustice occurred and he was hurt. She said hopes the lawsuit brings changes to the town.

“I hope that the defendants can realize that what happened — what really happened — and that they change their practices so that it doesn’t happen again,” Rosa said. 

In December 2018, the lawsuit alleges, Arnold denied Soto a standard 5% pay increase that others received, and to which Soto was entitled. Soto filed a grievance against the town and Arnold, but that grievance was denied.

Soto appealed the grievance after expending “significant time, energy and distress.” The denial was reversed, and Soto eventually received his raise in January 2019, the lawsuit claims.   

The lawsuit alleges that, during media event, Arnold told Soto, “(I)f you are going to dance with the big dogs, you need to learn to dance the salsa.” Arnold mockingly danced the salsa at Soto in front of others, according to the suit. The lawsuit also alleges Arnold frequently made unscheduled visits to Soto in the police department.

If Soto was absent for an unscheduled visit, according to the suit, Arnold would interrogate staff about Soto’s location. It alleges Arnold peered into office windows and the windows of police vehicles without the escort required by Criminal Justice Information Security Standards; Arnold was aware of this requirement. 

Soto spoke with Arnold about this behavior, according to the lawsuit, but Arnold made it clear he would continue his actions.

Soto’s teenage daughter became aware of Arnold’s alleged harassment, the lawsuit claims, and Arnold visited her at work, which led her to fear for her safety and her father’s.

Soto began to show physical signs of emotional distress due to his workplace, according to the lawsuit, including high blood pressure, hair loss and skin rash. He was treated for anxiety, depression and insomnia, and subsequently accrued medical expenses.

Stevens, under Arnold’s authority, allegedly initiated a “fishing-expedition campaign” to scrutinize police department expenditures and personnel action, according to the lawsuit, and would routinely reject or question Soto’s expenditures on already approved budgetary expenses.

The town, Currin and the town commissioners were aware of the conduct of staff which negatively affected Soto, the lawsuit states, but failed to make any changes or reprimand Arnold.

In a closed executive session in October 2020, the mayor and the board decided to fire Soto, despite Soto never having had disciplinary actions taken against him or conduct worthy of termination, the lawsuit claims. Soto was compelled to resign.