Police Detective’s Lawsuit Asserts Sexual Harassment, Retaliation Claims Under State Law

A police detective, who worked in her department’s Human Trafficking Unit (HTU) for about four years, has filed a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit under state law. Bermudez v. City of Austin, No. D-1-GN-14-005401, orig. pet. (Tex. Dist. Ct., 98th Dist., Travis Co., Dec. 29, 2014). The alleged acts of harassment included sexually explicit questions and remarks directed towards the plaintiff, who identifies as a lesbian, as well as sexually inappropriate comments and behavior towards female suspects and victims in HTU investigations. The lawsuit expressly disclaims any causes of action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making all claims under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA), Tex. Lab. Code § 21.001 et seq.

According to her petition, the plaintiff had years of experience in law enforcement when she began working for the defendant as a police officer in 2001. She received a promotion from Police Officer to Detective in 2009. In 2010, she was placed in the HTU, which “investigated under-age victims who had been forced into prostitution” and related offenses. Bermudez, pet. at 2. This was considered one of “the most elite and prestigious work assignments” in the department. Id.

The plaintiff alleges that male detectives in the HTU began sexually harassing her after her promotion. This included showing her pornographic images “obtained from prostitution-oriented websites,” making “sexually offensive ‘jokes’ and comments,” and asking the plaintiff “whether she would ‘do’ or have sex with the women.” Id. at 3. She alleges that some male HTU detectives became angry and harassed her for “help[ing] an unclothed female put on clothing,” id., and for blocking their view while a woman got dressed. She also claims that the detectives blocked her from entering locations with “unclothed female victims or suspects so that the male detectives could have longer contact with the unclothed females.” Id. at 3-4.

The harassment continued, the plaintiff alleges, even after she repeatedly told the male HTU detectives that “their conduct was offensive and unwelcome.” Id. at 4. She states that at times she was “literally pleading with them to stop,” and that she was often “forced to go along with the comments,” id., because the backlash from objecting to them was worse. The harassment also allegedly included harsher treatment in her work assignments and evaluations.

The plaintiff filed an Internal Affairs (IA) report in May 2013, and she claims that she was almost immediately temporarily removed from the HTU, “supposedly for her own ‘protection.'” Id. at 5. She learned in November 2013 that the city was disbanding the HTU. The IA investigation, she claims, was “biased and ineffective,” id., and resulted in a reprimand against her in June 2014 for sexually harassing male police officers.

The THRCA expressly enacts Title VII’s policies at the state level. Tex. Lab. Code § 21.001(1). Its protections are not as expansive as the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. L. § 290 et seq., but it does prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and retaliation for opposing or filing a claim regarding employment discrimination. Tex. Lab. Code §§ 21.051, 21.055.

Phillips & Associates’ employment attorneys advocate for the rights of workers in the greater New York City area in claims for sexual harassment and other violations of municipal, state, and federal employment laws. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our legal team, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

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