By Sarah Wolpoff
November 19, 2021
Harassment, retaliation claimed; P.C. Mayor Luis
Marino allegedly complicit
Melissa Rosario, the only female officer on the Port Chester police
force, is suing the department for gender discrimination due to
years of alleged harassment and denied career advancement
Police forces are a notoriously male dominated industry—a field
that has faced its fair share of criticism for fostering an
unwelcoming environment for women interested in yielding the
And according to legal documents recently obtained by the
Westmore News, the Port Chester Police Department is not
immune to such claims of discrimination and bias.
For the last 19 years, Melissa Rosario has served with the
department, often being the only female cop on the payroll, which
is currently the case. And after years of perceived poor treatment,
which she attributes to being provoked by her gender, she’s had
On Mar. 22, after a series of events, Rosario submitted a charge of
gender discrimination and retaliation against the Port Chester
Police Department with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission. After an investigation into the claim, the agency
issued a Right to Sue Notice in early-May.
And she’s going for it.
According to the Oct. 25 lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court
for the Southern District of New York in New York City, Rosario
claims she has been consistently denied opportunities for career
advancement during her nearly two decades with the Port Chester
Police Department—for reasons professed to revolve around
She’s been “aggressively” pursuing a career path that would lead
to detective status, the lawsuit states, and rejected from every
opportunity along the way.
Represented by Laine Armstrong, a lawyer with the New York Citybased
firm Advocates for Justice Chartered Attorneys, Rosario’s
discrimination claims are backed by a detailed account of specific
scenarios where she was allegedly harassed, ridiculed, suffered
from a hostile working environment and denied professional
Furthermore, when she tried to bring such claims to light without
the presence of litigation, she claims she was retaliated against—
by both the police department and Port Chester Mayor Luis
As such, the lawsuit calls on the police department, the Village of
Port Chester and Marino as defendants. Rosario seeks the
promotion she has reportedly been working towards for years,
along with financial reparations totaling $1.1 million.
Police Chief Christopher Rosabella declined to speak on Rosario
or the lawsuit, only offering a brief comment on claims of a hostile
workplace for women.
“I don’t see it happening here. I don’t think there’s a toxic
environment for anyone,” he said. “If there was, it would be dealt
Across the U.S., around 12% of full-time officers are women,
according to a 2016 local police department personnel study
conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice. Moreover, women
account for only 3% of police chiefs, 8% of intermediate
supervisors and 10% of first-line supervisors.
With only one female cop, the Village of Port Chester falls far
below the average. Of the 62 officers the department has
budgeted for, seven should be women to make up 12% of the
Rosario’s not alone in her belief of bias—it’s national conversation
across the industry.
According to a 2019 National Institute of Justice special report,
“Women in Policing: Breaking Barriers and Blazing a Path,”
women have been stagnantly underrepresented in police
departments across the U.S. for decades and the females who do
pursue a law enforcement career feel marginalized.
The report, issued in response to a summit of police officers and
policy researchers, defined department culture as a key barrier
women face. There was “widespread belief” at the meeting that
women additionally face professional discrimination in the
“Law enforcement attendees spoke at length about the barriers
they had personally faced over the source of their careers,” the
report stated, “such as the ‘boys club’ adverse or hostile
environments, explicit and subtle harassment, sexism, skewed
physical fitness assessments, double standards and a lack of
support and opportunity.”
“Attendees almost unanimously agreed that parts of the current
American policing culture are toxic for women. Several officers
said they nearly left law enforcement because of this,” it later
Armstrong claims they’ve built a solid case in Rosario’s favor.
“Cases of discrimination are rarely cut and dry,” she said. “But I
think there’s strong evidence that Melissa suffered discrimination
because she’s a woman.”
And the lawsuit lays out the claims, step by step, frequently noting
that male colleagues had not been subjected to the same
Toxicity: working through alleged harassment
A hostile work environment is described in-depth throughout the
lawsuit, which Rosario’s attorney claims has led to harassment,
discrimination and damages to her reputation that may contribute
to her lack of career advancement opportunities.
It started early in her career, the lawsuit claims, as she was
allegedly teased relentlessly with a rumor falsifying that she had to
“sleep with her old captain” to get the job, when “in fact, (Rosario)
rebuffed the captain’s advances from the start, which delayed her
hiring by two years.”
Later, Armstrong writes her reputation was further damaged as
unsubstantiated rumors circulated indicating she ruined another
police officer’s marriage.
The lawsuit alleges she was frequently subjected to disparaging
comments about herself and other women throughout her career.
Male colleagues, according to the lawsuit, have indicated that she
gets underserved special treatment because men “feel bad for
her.” Once she received a paycheck where a co-worker wrote
“useless” on the envelope, it reads.
Another time, a co-worker allegedly commented that Rosario
should introduce herself: “Hi, I’m Missy and I (have) two kids by
two different baby daddies.”
Drastically, the lawsuit accuses former Police Chief Richard
Conway of making a crude comment to Rosario about a specific
prospective female candidate in December 2020, suggesting he
could not hire her as an officer because “she was too hot” and
“someone would get her pregnant.” The sentiment, the document
states, caused Rosario extreme emotional distress.
Notably, in an interview on Wednesday, Nov. 17, Conway said he
would “never, ever, ever” echo those words, calling the accusation
Over time, Rosario allegedly heard increasingly more comments
damaging her reputation. At one point, in October 2019, a
physically threatening confrontation allegedly occurred with a Port
Chester detective over her open distress about being continuously
overlooked for promotions.
“(Rosario) requested that her male colleague cease his
harassment of her, he screamed at her ‘you think you have friends
here, but you don’t,’” the lawsuit reads. “This statement caused
(Rosario) extreme emotional distress because it revealed that she
was not well respected by her colleagues because she is a
woman, that her colleagues have a low opinion of her because she
is a woman and that she has been denied opportunities because
she is a woman.”
The incident inspired Rosario to issue a verbal and written
complaint, which the police department promised to investigate.
Armstrong writes in the legal documents that during that time,
Rosario started getting harassed over rumors that she was going
to sue the department—years before a lawsuit was filed.
In December 2019, acting in his then-capacity as a Village trustee,
now Mayor Luis Marino allegedly got involved. The lawsuit alleges
Marino heard about the rumor and called Rosario, stating: “If I
were you, I would keep my mouth shut.”
Marino could not be reached for comment by press time on
Wednesday, Nov. 17.
19 years and no promotion
As a police officer, Rosario has been overwhelmingly assigned to
“women’s work,” the lawsuit states, given jobs that were either
irrelevant to policing or carried few opportunities for career
“(Rosario) was assigned numerous menial tasks outside of her job
description, such as picking up dry cleaning, running errands to
the post office and personal hand-delivery of mail that similarly
situated male officers were not assigned,” the suit reads. “The
Department also regularly gave (Rosario) low-level responsibilities
and clerical work that were normally assigned to more junior
officers and that carried with them little opportunity for
advancement such as working with youth and community
Despite receiving such assignments, she has reportedly been
ridiculed frequently for not issuing enough tickets.
In or before 2016, Armstrong asserts in the document, Rosario
started conversations with former Chief Conway about pursuing a
promotion—desiring to ultimately become a detective.
However, for the next several years she felt she was strung along
with empty promises.
The lawsuit claims that though Rosario possessed the same
qualifications as her peers, she watched more than eight male
colleagues with less experience achieve detective status over her.
“Each time (PCPD) deprived (Rosario) of the opportunity for
advancement, her supervisors assured her that she possessed
stellar qualifications, but she was not promoted due to various
external concerns,” the lawsuit states. “Chief Conway advised her
that he would keep her name in consideration.”
The pattern allegedly continued, with Rosario getting passed up
every time a detective position became available. Her attorney
claims Conway continuously “misled” her to believe she would
eventually be assigned to the position, but she reportedly also got
At one point, the lawsuit states: “…Conway informed (Rosario) that
the other PCPD detectives and supervisors did not want (her)
assigned to the position of detective, presumably because she is a
woman, stating, ‘they don’t want you back there’ in the detective’s
Conway allegedly promised that he’d get Rosario promoted before
he retired. However, he left the force in March 2020 and she never
“It was a goal of mine to promote her. We had tried several times,”
Conway said. “We did everything we could. Unfortunately, towards
the end, it became fiscally impossible to move anyone from the
While Conway declined to comment on specific details of the
lawsuit and the alleged sequence of events, he claimed that he
legitimately wanted to see Rosario promoted. Of the times her
male colleagues were chosen over her, he said it oftentimes came
down to track record—the department looks into summonses and
arrest rates when making those decisions.
However, as the lawsuit notes, to Rosario’s end—it’s difficult to
have comparable statistics when she was assigned menial
work—a seeming catch-22.
In March 2019, Rosario was reportedly informed that she was
permitted to go to detective training—a session she completed, yet
still didn’t earn the promotion. According to the lawsuit, she is the
only Port Chester officer to be denied the position after attending
During the training, the lawsuit states, she networked with federal
agents who recommended she join a Drug Enforcement Agency
(DEA) Task Force in Fall 2019. However, according to the lawsuit,
she was not permitted to join at that time.
However, a few days after the alleged aforementioned incident
with the Port Chester detective occurred, Conway put the DEA
Task Force position back on the table. As an investigation ensued,
Rosario attended DEA training between December 2019 and
February 2020, preparing for her new position.
Was there retaliation?
According to the lawsuit, the Port Chester Police Department
ultimately withdrew Rosario’s approval to join the DEA Task Force.
In May 2020, they allegedly justified that it was due to a manpower
shortage; however, it also coincided with the end of the
investigation into her complaint against the detective who allegedly
In Spring of this year, “after enduring discrimination due to her
sex/gender and retaliation for filing a complaint with her
supervisor,” she filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The Right to Sue letter was issued May 3.
Later that month, on May 18, someone allegedly vandalized her
car parked in the police station driveway—writing the word “rat”
and drawing a caricature across the back.
Furthermore, Armstrong alleges Port Chester Mayor Marino got
involved again on May 30, continuing to threaten her career.
“(Rosario) learned that Port Chester Mayor Luis Marino told other
law enforcement officers that (she) was no longer a candidate for
the detective bureau because of the ‘shit she was pulling…with the
lawsuit and everything,’” the lawsuit reads. “The illegal pattern of
discriminatory and retaliatory actions has caused (Rosario)
emotional distress, causing her to seek medical attention.”
Moving forward: the damages
Women in traditionally male dominated fields tend to have thicker
skin, Armstrong said.
“In non-traditional work for women, you see a lot of discrimination,
harassment and retaliation that goes unreported. I think most
women who do jobs that aren’t traditionally held by women
believe, to a certain extent, they are fitting into a workplace instead
of a workplace accommodating them. So they tolerate things other
women might not. They’re not overly sensitive to what could be
The sentiment, she said, applies to Rosario as well.
However, in her legal experience she’s found the situation changes
when women start seeing their earning capacity impacted by the
conditions—or when they’ve been in a role for a long period of
time and witness colleagues with less experience advance beyond
She claims that’s exactly what happened to Rosario.
“As a result of defendants’ unlawful actions, (Rosario) has suffered
extreme mental anguish, outrage, anxiety about her future, harm
to her employability and earning capacity, painful embarrassment
among her family, friends and coworkers, damage to her personal
reputation, disruption of her personal life and the loss of enjoyment
of the ordinary pleasures of everyday life,” the lawsuit states.
“…(Rosario) has been damaged and is entitled to injunctive relief,
economic damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages,
costs and attorney fees and interest.”
Along with a promotion to detective, Rosary seeks: $250,000 in
compensatory damages, $350,000 in emotional distress damages
and $500,000 in punitive damages.
According to Armstrong, the Village of Port Chester has been
served. They have 30 days to respond.