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.