The first female police officer in Pasco has filed a lawsuit against the department alleging sexual and racial discrimination.
Officer Dawn Persinger claims she was demoted from sergeant in 2014 after she reported sexual harassment and discrimination to the city’s human resources department.
The nearly 25-year veteran officer filed a $1 million claim with the city earlier this year saying she suffered emotional distress and mental anguish because of the harassment.
Persinger’s attorney, William Gilbert, and city officials reportedly had been in mediation to try and resolve the claim. After negotiations broke down, Gilbert and Persinger filed a $3 million claim.
The lawsuit, filed last week in Franklin County Superior Court, alleges there has been a culture of chauvinism, discrimination and dishonesty in the department for decades.
The discrimination, the lawsuit said, targets female and “non-white” officers, causing emotional distress and anxiety.
“This racial and sexual discrimination, harassment and retaliation is not limited to interdepartmental affairs, but carries over to the street with racial profiling, sexual bias and abuse of authority by these officers,” Gilbert wrote in the lawsuit.
Officials at the Pasco Police Department could not be reached Monday to discuss the lawsuit, which specifically names Chief Bob Metzger and Capt. Ken Roske.
The lawsuit states Persinger is seeking monetary damages, though a specific dollar amount is not listed.
Persinger, who started her law enforcement career in 1991, was promoted to sergeant in 2013, becoming the first woman to reach the rank.
About six months after her promotion, Persinger was interviewed as part of an internal investigation into claims made by former Officer Zachary Fairley of racial discrimination and harassment.
Fairley, who is black, was fired from the department after a texting scandal with a suspected prostitute. He was later convicted of making false statements and obstructing the investigation, though he was acquitted of patronizing a prostitute.
During her interview with human resources officials, Persinger talked about her own experiences of discrimination and harassment throughout the years, the lawsuit said. She also complained that Roske has allegedly targeted other officers.
Persinger was worried that officials would retaliate against her after the interview.
About a month later, Persinger was investigated for allegedly “spreading rumors” about another female officer, and ultimately placed on nine months of probation and given a work improvement plan where she was evaluated monthly, the lawsuit said.
An investigation showed Persinger had an hourlong conversation with two younger officers while they were on duty, according to documents detailing the internal investigation. The conversation was recorded on in-car cameras and reviewed by Roske.
At the time of the conversation, the three officers were part of a six-person team that was supposed to be patrolling Pasco, documents said. The entire conversation was apparently not work related.
Police determined that during the conversation, Persinger made disparaging comments about another female officer and other sergeants.
“During this recorded conversation, you did not display confidence in certain department supervisors or a positive attitude about the department,” Metzger wrote in a report to Persinger.
The lawsuit dismissed the internal investigation, stating it was brief and biased.
In February 2014, Persinger received a poor evaluation during her first review since being placed on probation, the lawsuit said. After another poor evaluation in April, Persinger apparently raised concerns about the evaluation process.
Persinger was then demoted from sergeant in late April, about six months after her interview with the human resources department.
Persinger had knee surgery and was on leave for a while, the lawsuit said. When she returned, the alleged harassment and discrimination continued, so she decided to file the claim.
The lawsuit alleges the discrimination then escalated.
Officers were directed not to speak with Persinger, the lawsuit said. At one point, a naked picture of a male suspect was intentionally given to her and she was asked if she could identify the person.
Persinger was again on leave in November when she said she missed out on selecting work shifts after department officials failed to notify her the shifts were open for bid, the lawsuit said.
And when Persinger recently returned from leave, she was notified she was being reassigned to a resource officer position, the lawsuit said. Persinger apparently told officials she didn’t want the position, which offers less desirable hours and pay.
“This is further retaliation for her speaking out about corruption, discrimination, harassment and retaliation within the department,” Gilbert wrote in the lawsuit.
The city and police officials have 20 days to respond to the lawsuit.