Police Officer Receives More than $1M in Harassment Lawsuit

June 8, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A jury in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, awarded more than $1 million to a female police officer who alleged that her male supervisor, an administrative sergeant, had sexually harassed her, leading to psychological and economical damage.

The 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the officer’s charges against her supervisor and the municipality for violating  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964   and Puerto Rico Law 17, as well as retaliation and constitutional due process, according to court records.

According to the court’s opinion, an administrative sergeant began pursuing the officer, not relenting even when she complained about his behavior, which included inappropriate comments and activities. He often drove by her house and honked his horn, and he also appeared to be following the officer and her child in the mall.

The officer attempted to meet with the police commissioner to discuss her supervisor’s behavior, but he told her to talk to an internal affairs investigator who handled equal opportunity charges for the municipal police. The investigator was a good friend of the sergeant’s. The investigator put his arm around the officer’s shoulders and told her “that it was [her] fault because [she] had him bedazzled,” according to court records.

Though the officer’s complaint halted the sergeant’s advances for a few weeks, he assigned her to the “punishment” unit – a water park that was isolated – for more than a month, and he forced her to work more than five double shifts.

The sergeant visited the officer at the water park and said that “[w]henever [she] stop[ped] being such a spoiled rotten kid, [he] could get [her] out of there,” according to court records. The officer also tried to talk to the mayor, but he told her the police commissioner “was like his brother” and refused to help her.

The officer filed an administrative complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Unit of the Puerto Rico Department of Labor in February 2001, and it was sent to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under a work-sharing agreement.

As a result of her futile attempts to stop the sergeant’s advances, the officer suffered what she called a “nervous breakdown” in February 2001, according to court records. She underwent psychiatric treatment and did not return to work until October 2001. According to court records, it was unclear whether she was receiving pension payments during that time. She exhausted all vacation and sick leave and stopped being paid in mid-April 2001 and attempted to return to work – she moved to another station – because she needed the money.

The sergeant visited her at her new position, and the officer sought treatment again in January 2002, according to court records.

In January 2003, the officer returned to work, but she received a letter from the mayor that terminated her employment because she had missed more than 360 days of work. In response to this, the officer added another retaliation claim as well as a due process claim, according to court records.