SALT LAKE CITY — A woman has filed a civil rights lawsuit claiming she was subjected to sexual harassment from a member of the Utah Highway Patrol at the risk of her company losing business.
Heather Leyva, an employee of West Coast Towing, was the primary liaison for her company and law enforcement agencies, including the UHP.
When a semitrailer or large vehicle is involved in an accident, there is a rotation of three towing companies in Utah County that are called by UHP troopers to tow those vehicles, according to the lawsuit.
The man who used to be in charge of the Heavy Duty Rotation program was UHP Sgt. Blaine Robbins.
From January 2017 to June 2017, West Coast Towing lost money because it was not being called out on every third incident, Leyva's lawyer, Salt Lake civil rights attorney Robert Sykes, said Wednesday while announcing the lawsuit. The reason, he said, was because Leyva was the person who would have to contact Robbins to find out what the problem was.
"That was the only reason for her to stay in contact with him was problems. He created the problems, so he created the need for her to stay in contact with him," Sykes said. "This started a pattern of frequent harassment, suggestive comments."
Leyva said what would initially start off as a business call or visit would quickly turn into very personal texts or conversations that went beyond playful flirting. For months, Leyva said that she would receive multiple texts a day, every few days, from Robbins. One day, he even pulled her over on the freeway using his UHP patrol car with emergency lights and siren just to say hi, she said.
"When you're being stopped in a police car just because you want to be seen, that's beyond playful. And I don't think that should be happening with state property anyway. I mean, taxpayers are paying for him to be out doing his job," Leyva said.
Robbins always contacted her while he was on duty, she said, and reminded her that he was the one in power.
"He was always saying, 'I am the sergeant. I am in charge. I am the boss.' That's very concerning to me that someone can pull you over, that can send you messages (and) say whatever they want, do whatever they want, and you just have to go with it. Because what's going to happen if you don't?" Leyva said.
At one point, she said Robbins told her, "Don't give me a reason not to like you."
Because of that, Leyva said she felt she always had to walk a thin line and "deflect" his comments rather than sternly telling him to stop. She said she was afraid that if she upset Robbins, it would cost her company even more business.
"I felt like that I was doing the best that I could do by deflecting it," she said.
Leyva is a single mother of three. Robbins was married during the alleged harassment. Some of his texts included requests for pictures of Leyva and coming to her house to give her a drink, according to copies of the texts in the lawsuit. Other texts were suggestive in nature.
"This should be unacceptable behavior by anybody in any professional workplace. But particularly the highway patrol of the state of Utah. I think they should be held to an even higher standard than everyone else. And I think that standard should be you shouldn't have to put up with sexuaL harassment," Leyva said. "I would like to have women be able to do their jobs. I would like to be able to go do my job and not feel like I'm going to be concerned about a snide comment that's made."2 comments on this story
Leyva said an internal investigation was conducted and Robbins is no longer in charge of the Heavy Duty Rotation. But she said she could not get into more detail about what the UHP concluded in its investigation.
The Utah Department of Public Safety issued a brief prepared statement Wednesday: "The department takes all allegations of harassment very seriously. Due to potential litigation, our department has no further comment regarding this matter."
Robbins is still employed by UHP on active duty. A spokesman would not say Wednesday if he is still a sergeant or what his current rank is due to the pending litigation.