10 women who worked, or currently work on D.C.'s police force filed a class action suit against the department, alleging discrimination and a culture of retaliation.
A group of 10 Black women filed a class-action lawsuit against D.C.'s police department on Wednesday, alleging racial discrimination and sexual harassment within the force and a "systemic pattern" of bullying and retaliation against those who expressed concerns about mistreatment.
Of the 10 plaintiffs, five are currently on the force, and all but one have served for at least 15 years. Chanel Dickerson, a current assistant chief of police, is the highest ranking officer among them.
"This whole case made me realize that I have some unhealed trauma of the things that have happened to me over the course of my career, and I had suppressed them," Dickerson said at a press conference on Wednesday, joined by the lawyers on the suit, Pam Keith and Donald Temple. "It's very difficult to be at this level and see the disparate treatment amongst people of color, particularly Black women speak out about it. And nothing happens."
The 208-page suit details multiple allegations of racial and sexual discrimination, including racist remarks made by officers and unwanted sexual advances, and argues that the department engages in "repeated, coordinated and relentless retaliation campaigns" against officers for coming forward.
During the press conference, Keith said the department's culture — "jocular, disrespectful, hazing, bullying locker room talk" — and the systemic efforts to push out those who attempted to report mistreatment create a workplace that is "a living hell for Black female officers who get [caught in] crossways of those in power."
"It is not just accepted, it is the way it is," Keith said. "And those who oppose it, or don't agree with it...are made to endure the silence and bear the wrath if they do not."
In one instance, Plaintiff Kia Mitchell, who currently works in the department's Emergency Response Team, claims a fellow officer urinated in front of her while on duty. Dickerson's accounts include several allegations of sexual harassment. Tamika Hampton, a sergeant currently assigned to the Seventh District, alleges a fellow officer attempted to kiss her, and retaliated when she rejected his advance.
"We reported these things to management, to our EEO, and we were ignored," said plaintiff Tabatha Knight, who retired from the department in February. "The worst of it, we were labeled as troublemakers, angry Black women. And I'm here to say that we are not angry black women, are tired women. And no one should have to endure what we did."
The lawsuit is calling for an overhaul of the department's Equal Employment Office, which the suit claims condones racist or sexist behavior, ignores the complaints made by Black women on the force, and protects those accused of wrongdoing. It's also seeking $250,000 in damages for each of the plaintiffs.
In response to DCist/WAMU's request for comment, MPD declined to comment on the specific allegations "due to pending litigation."
"The Metropolitan Police Department is committed to treating all members fairly and equitably throughout our organization," a spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. "We take these allegations seriously and we will be reviewing them thoroughly and responding accordingly."
When asked about the lawsuit during an unrelated press conference on Wednesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declined to comment on the lawsuit specifically.
"We pride ourselves in having a police department that we have professionalized," Bowser said. "I certainly pride myself and running a government where people want to work, they want to work because they, they get ahead because of the merit of their performance and nothing else. And I won't tolerate anything less out of any of the agencies."
Lawyer Donald Temple described the lawsuit as a "landmark" class action case. Regionally, police departments have also faced discrimination allegations by their own officers. In July, Prince George's County paid $2.3 million to settle a discrimination suit filed by Black and Latinx officers within its police department, after the county spent $18 million in court fees fighting the lawsuit.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.