Security chief sued before
DISNEYLAND: The head of one of the park's security units was accused in three other jobs of heavy-handed tactics.
March 11, 2000
By BERNARD J. WOLFSON
The Orange County Register

ANAHEIM - The head of a Disneyland security unit accused recently of heavy-handed tactics against park employees has been sued in at least three previous security jobs, according to court records.
Numerous former and current Disneyland employees have criticized the park's 10-member "loss-prevention management" division, headed by Christopher S. Penton. They told The Orange County Register that the division's investigators have questioned them at length about alleged wrongdoing, often using intimidation and misleading statements to try to secure confessions. One named Penton in a civil suit filed against the park Feb. 18.
Penton, through Disneyland spokesman Ray Gomez, declined to comment on any of the complaints against him. Gomez declined to comment on any lawsuits in which Penton was named.
Some complaints by plaintiffs in the previous lawsuits against Penton echo criticisms of him in a memo recently sent to top Disney managers and those made by the Disneyland employees.
Court records from Orange and Los Angeles counties show that between 1985 and 1995, three civil lawsuits were filed against Penton and his former employers.

Previous lawsuits
While at Sears, Roebuck and Co. in Inglewood, Penton and another security guard were accused of assault for allegedly beating up a man they suspected of shoplifting in 1985. The case was settled out of court.

Bullock's Inc. in Los Angeles also settled a case in which a black customer accused Penton in 1994 of racial discrimination and wrongful detention. She said she was held against her will while he conducted a credit-card check, and that the check was done because of her race.

In the third case, Rampage Retailing Inc., a clothing chain, failed to respond to a complaint against it and Penton for wrongful dismissal and defamation. Rampage was ordered by an Orange County Superior Court judge to pay $25,307 to plaintiff Ellie Azimy.

Azimy, who worked in the Rampage store at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, claimed in her 1995 lawsuit that Penton had falsely accused her of stealing cash and tried to coerce "immaterial" information out of her in questioning that lasted more than four hours. Penton also told Azimy he had videotapes and other "proof of theft," when in fact no such evidence existed, according to her suit. Azimy was fired from the job. Azimy's lawsuit is similar to the one filed last month by Jacqueline Madory, a former guest-relations worker at Disneyland. Madory was fired from the park in December for allegedly stealing complimentary passes. In the suit, Madory said Penton detained her for more than five hours, trying to get her to confess. Penton also told Madory he had a videotape and other evidence, which he and other park officials later failed to produce, according to the lawsuit.

Visitors complained
Controversy is nothing new to Disneyland's security department. More than three years ago, visitors accused of shoplifting complained of being detained by security officers who subjected them to rough treatment and tried to make them pay penalties of up to $500 on the spot.
The park changed its arrest procedures and limited security officers' ability to detain visitors.
Now, employees are the ones complaining about their treatment at the hands of park security's internal investigators.
"You hear all the time about how there are undercover operations everywhere, and it's increasing lately," said Dave Stilwell of Service Employees Union Local 1877, which represents park janitors, day-care workers and ticket takers.
"It's becoming a matter of concern. People are wondering why it's going on, or if it's just a new turn in the company."
A four-page memo sent recently to top management -- including Walt Disney Co. Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner, theme park division Chief Paul Pressler and Disneyland President Cynthia Harriss -- criticizes the behavior of Penton and some of his subordinates.
The memo, by a group of anonymous authors who say they are park managers, complains of "wild fishing expeditions against tenured employees of the company."
It says that in many cases, investigators are "making a mountain out of a molehill," and that there have been "large numbers of suspensions that literally wipe out entire shifts."

Park concerned
Gomez said park officials are concerned about the memo. "We take these types of allegations very seriously, and we have reviewed it," he said.
Gomez would not discuss specific employee cases or details about the internal security unit or its tactics.
"The area of loss-prevention security involves the investigation of alleged wrongdoing, and individuals who may be involved in those wrongdoings," Gomez said. "So by their very nature, these types of discussions on these issues are always difficult."
But some park employees say the Disneyland investigators have gone too far in their methods.
The workers' complaints about Penton are similar to those made by plaintiffs in lawsuits filed against him.
Cammy Dupont, the woman who sued Penton and Bullock's for racial discrimination and wrongful detention, said Penton "took this very rigid and very righteous stance with me. He was not apologetic at all. He was like, 'I have power -- you have nothing.' "

Fourteen current and former Disneyland employees are upset. Many of them said park investigators held them for several hours, sometimes against their wishes, and tried to badger them into confessing. In some cases, they said, their questioners suggested they could save their jobs if they confessed. According to some employees' accounts, investigators also played accused colleagues against each other; threatened to call the police if they didn't cooperate; and claimed to have evidence, including videotapes, which they later appeared not to have. These tactics, while not a public relations dream for Disneyland, aren't necessarily illegal or even uncommon in private security, say some legal experts.

"To say, 'Hey, we have the goods on you' -- even if they don't have as much as they say -- is just good investigation tactics," said Donald Sessions, a Mission Viejo labor lawyer who represents employees in disputes with management. Sessions said lengthy detentions aren't necessarily against the law either, unless the accused is physically barred from leaving.

But Michelle Reinglass, a Laguna Hills employment lawyer, disagreed: "I think the law is pretty clear that psychological duress or financial duress can be the (legal) basis for someone to claim they were unable to leave."
In practical terms, however, any legal outcome will depend on whether the employees are guilty, said Reinglass and others.

Many of the Disneyland workers who have complained say they were wrongly accused. Others admit to minor infractions, but say the response was disproportionate to the deed.

Tamara Cardona, a Disneyland day-care provider, was accused of stealing tickets in December -- nearly a year after she had accepted two complimentary passes from Madory for her son and his girlfriend.
"They tried to get her to talk about everything she had ever stolen or taken from there," said Local 1877's Stilwell, who represented Cardona in a union grievance. "She said she hadn't stolen, but they said, 'We have tapes. We have information.' "

In another incident, Jennifer Kaiser, a former temporary security guard at the California Adventure site, said she was questioned for 2½ hours after her shift had ended. She and a colleague, Shaun Diamond, were accused of writing obscenities about another guard. "I told them I was supposed to be off, but they told me I had to stay for the questioning," Kaiser said. She said her questioners refused to listen when she told them that a third guard, who had since left the park, was the one responsible. Kaiser and Diamond were fired, and their superiors never explicitly stated the reason, she said. Kaiser, who now works in the internal security unit of Robinsons-May in Lakewood, said things are quite different there. "We use much different methods," she said. "We only fire people if we know (the allegations) are true."

Register staff writer Andrew Bluth and news researchers Gene Balk and Dick Glasow contributed to this story. Bernard Wolfson covers tourism and theme parks for the Register.

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