Female Philly police officers reach deal over feared retribution
PHILADELPHIA — Two female police officers whose sexual harassment lawsuit led Philadelphia’s police commissioner to resign have reached a temporary agreement with the city involving their fears of retribution.
The women say their complaints of being physically and verbally harassed by supervisors and colleagues were ignored by department brass. One accuses outgoing Commissioner Richard Ross of failing to help because she had broken off a two-year affair with him in 2011. Ross, in his first public comments Wednesday, denied retaliating against anyone.
The women, in a lawsuit filed Friday, say that since raising complaints they’ve been assigned rotating shift work, given undesirable jobs, harassed over efforts to pump breast milk and suffered stress-related medical problems.
Just last week, Mayor Jim Kenney had called Ross the nation’s best police commissioner after he helped negotiate during a nearly eight-hour hostage standoff that left six officers shot and wounded.
Speaking outside police headquarters Wednesday, Ross said his abrupt resignation was completely voluntary and he has “never sought retribution on a person, personally or professionally.” He did not comment on the lawsuit specifically.
“My love for this city has compelled me to make a decision that is bigger than me,” he said. “Given the circumstances I just thought for the greater good of all citizens of Philadelphia, the fine officers here and the mayor, that it would be better if I just moved along.”
Kenney noted a sexual harassment prevention policy and efforts to prevent workplace discrimination and harassment were implemented a year ago.
“While rolling out a new policy understandably takes time, I do not believe the Police Department has taken the necessary actions to address the underlying cultural issues that too often negatively impact women — especially women of color,” Kenney, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Ross, who is black, joined the department in 1989 and had served as commissioner since January 2016.
The lawsuit, in which Ross and the city are among the defendants, was filed by a corporal and an officer, one black, the other black Hispanic. The women’s civil lawyer, Ian Bryson, said they had not expected Ross to resign.
“If that’s what it takes to shed light on this issue, then we see it as a win for working people,” Bryson said.
The lawsuit said when one of the women told Ross she had been subjected to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, he responded brusquely.
“Commissioner Ross declined to act on her report, and instead suggested, ‘So why don’t you just order his dumb ass to go sit down and get out of your face officer,’ ” the lawsuit alleged.
The lawsuit alleges discrimination, a hostile work environment, retaliation and other counts. It says the women “have suffered continuous and ongoing sexual harassment and discrimination by both co-workers and supervisors,” including groping, sexual comments and sexual advances, and that they faced retaliation for complaining about it.
The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they are victims of a sexual assault, such as groping, unless they have publicly identified themselves.