Only Female PCPD Police Officer Sues Over Gender Discrimination

westmorenews.com


By Sarah Wolpoff

November 19, 2021


Harassment, retaliation claimed; P.C. Mayor Luis

Marino allegedly complicit

Melissa Rosario


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

opportunities.


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

badge.


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

enough.


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

gender discrimination.


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

prospects.


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

Marino.


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

with.”


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

force.


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

promotion process.


“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

continued.


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

treatment.


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

“disgraceful.”


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

advancement.


“(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

outreach.”


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

mixed signals.


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

office.”


Conway allegedly promised that he’d get Rosario promoted before

he retired. However, he left the force in March 2020 and she never

moved up.


“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

patrol force.”


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

the training.


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

threatened her.


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

harassment.”


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

them.


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.

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