A Manhattan federal court judge, hinting at the NYPD’s alleged mistreatment of its female officers, has cleared the way for a Latina former cop to proceed with a sex-harassment lawsuit she filed against her supervisors and the department.
In a mixed ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero allowed Gloria Gonzalez to pursue charges that she had suffered “discrimination based on [a] hostile environment, sexual harassment, and retaliation” while she was assigned to two station houses in the Bronx from 1992 to ’96. Justice Marrero, however, threw out Gonzalez’s claim of gender discrimination and dismissed her allegation that the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) ignored her complaints and intimidated her by warning her that she would be fired.
The suit names former police commissioners Howard Safir, William Bratton, and other high-ranking department officials as defendants. A trial date has been set for September 18.
In a stinging commentary on Gonzalez’s alleged ordeal, dated August 21, Marrero writes: “Gonzalez’s accusations, if sustained by a jury, may be read to convey this much: when the history of the New York City Police Department’s treatment of its women officers is told, the chapter this case records may not recount one of its finest moments.”
The ruling comes on the heels of a strongly worded letter the Latino Officers Association (LOA) sent to Merrill Lynch, asking the stock brokerage giant to “rescind the appointment” of former first deputy commissioner Patrick Kelleher. “During his [initial] years as First Deputy Commissioner, myself and members of other organizations have noticed that Mr. Kelleher has had serious problems relating [to] and interacting with people of color,” LOA president Anthony Miranda said in the August 2 letter to David Komansky, Merrill Lynch’s chair and CEO. “Why Merrill Lynch would consider such an individual who, as the number two person in the Police Department, has plunged police/community relations to some of its lowest points in recent years, is disconcerting.”
In July, Kelleher, 53, confirmed that he had taken a job at Merrill Lynch, just weeks before his boss, Howard Safir, announced his intention to step down. Kelleher, who will become Merrill Lynch’s director of worldwide security, will be in charge of fraud control, executive protection, corporate security, the ethics hotline, and physical security for the firm’s 68,600 employees. Kelleher has been criticized for lacking sensitivity toward minority cops involved in disciplinary proceedings within the police department. Records obtained by the Daily News show that blacks and Latinos, who represent 30.4 percent of the force, make up 44.4 percent of the dismissals since 1994, when Gloria Gonzalez was in the throes of her sex-discrimination battle with the NYPD. In his letter, Miranda pointed out that “numerous lawsuits alleging serious misconduct” by black and Latino cops against Kelleher are pending in federal courts. “Will your corporation, with its outstanding reputation, use Mr. Kelleher to retaliate against people of color who file [equal employment opportunity] or court complaints at Merrill Lynch?” Miranda asked.
When Gloria Gonzalez became a cop in 1984, she joined a male-dominated police department some say is notorious for sexually harassing female officers, especially rookies. Gonzalez found out that keeping her mouth shut about sexual predators with badges ensured she would survive her crucial initiation and possibly move up in the ranks. According to Justice Marrero’s 77-page document, Gonzalez “alleges having experienced some level of sexual harassment” during those early years but “made no official complaints.”
Because Gonzalez’s muted protests never raised eyebrows, she continued “receiving positive evaluations” from her superiors for several years. Even when Gonzalez was reassigned to the 45th Precinct station house in 1990, she remained an exemplary cop. Lieutenant Lawrence Powell took a liking to the young officer, but his feelings for her allegedly grew obsessive in 1992. “Gonzalez claims that, to her growing discomfort, Powell asked her out on dates, changed her work assignments in order to cause her to be with him outside the precinct, and touched and spoke to her in an inappropriate and suggestive manner,” the court document said. “She also asserts that Powell, in order to gauge her reactions to his advances, would often point out Gonzalez’s strong resemblance to his former girlfriend. Finally, Gonzalez states that Powell, chastising her for ‘not playing the game,’ harassed her for not responding to his advances by using his authority over her work to control her schedule generally, by rearranging her assignments and by denying her leave requests and the vacation days she had selected.”
The alleged harassment was too much even for an ambitious Latina cop to bear. Between April and May 1994, Gonzalez complained to the department’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity. “Gonzalez claims that immediately after she filed her internal OEEO complaint, Powell’s behavior toward her changed, in that he became abusive, finding fault with her work, berating her, and reassigning her to positions away from him and outside the station house,” the court document added. “Powell also allegedly told Gonzalez that she would regret it if she did not rescind her complaint.”
Gonzalez sought help from Richard Ragogna, the PBA delegate, who was stationed in the 45th Precinct. But Ragogna allegedly advised Gonzalez to ‘watch [her] back’ when ratting on superior officers, because she might face retaliation. Ragogna reportedly sat on her complaint. Acting on the advice of her supervisor, Gonzalez transferred to the 50th Precinct, also in the Bronx. But Powell allegedly continued to retaliate against Gonzalez by alerting her new supervisors that Gonzalez had squealed on cops before. Powell also had charged that Gonzalez had stolen a picture of his ex-girlfriend. Gonzalez reportedly did not fare well under precinct captain Anthony Kissik.
“From the beginning, she says, Kissik and other male officers working with him harassed her and treated her differently from male officers, using vulgar and demeaning language both as harassment and as retaliation for her earlier complaints,” the court document said. “Specifically, Gonzalez recounts one occasion in which in her presence Kissik referred to women as ‘bitches.’ She claims Kissik would not allow her to wear shorts during a heat wave while she was on restricted duty assignment at the precinct switchboard although male officers were allowed to wear shorts. She also declares that, unlike male officers on restricted duty, her tours were regularly changed to night shifts and weekends.”
That summer, the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau also seemed to be hot on Gonzalez’s trail. “The purported subject of the inquiry was Gonzalez’s having worn her uniform during an appearance as a character witness at a hearing about her brother at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center, although she reports that she actually did not testify.” The tortured cop balked. “Gonzalez asserts that the involvement of IA, which normally handles internal investigations of serious police misconduct, was unusual, and that PBA attorneys Kevin Campbell and Robert Browne both expressed surprise that she was being interrogated for that offense. . . . .”
But Gonzalez felt that Browne dropped the ball during the interrogation of her by Internal Affairs. She said that Browne “failed to provide effective assistance while she was asked about a wide variety of subjects that seemed far afield from the uniform incident.” What, she wondered, do “drug use and other questions pertaining to her friends and family” have to do with the investigation? Gonzalez, according to the court document, “also inferred that the officers interrogating her had heard about her previous complaints, as evidenced when one of them asked her, when she requested a break, whether she was going to file a sexual harassment complaint against them.”
Gonzalez contended that the involvement of Internal Affairs, the suspicious personal questions, and the constant references to sexual harassment, were part of the department’s “continuing campaign of retaliation” against her. “While Gonzalez acknowledges that Browne did, in fact, object to the questioning as it strayed farther afield from either the underlying incident or anything she had discussed at the hearing itself, she states that his representation was perfunctory at best, and that Browne ultimately harmed her by recommending that she submit to a psychological evaluation.”
After the PBA attorney warned Gonzalez she might be fired if she did not consent to be psyched by department shrinks, she turned in her guns and reluctantly submitted to the evaluation. Gonzalez argued that her attorney failed to notice that the NYPD “all along [was trying] to create evidence in support of charges that she was mentally disturbed rather than genuinely aggrieved by sexual harassment.” (In his final ruling regarding the PBA’s role, Justice Marrero declared that Gonzalez “has not offered enough factual grounds” to implicate Browne, any other PBA attorney, or the union itself in retaliatory action against her.) Later that summer, Gonzalez was booted from the 50th Precinct and banished to a Bronx courthouse, where she performed menial tasks. She regarded the assignment as “a dumping ground which carries a stigma reserved for officers who have demonstrated difficulties and limitations in their ability to perform regular police functions.”
The torment allegedly intensified in the gulag-type environment in which Gonzalez claimed she was forced to work. There, according to Gonzalez, supervisors continued to “attack [her] on a daily basis for a few months” by “verbally yelling, screaming.” Her supervisors continued to assign her “undesirable tasks,” disciplined her for “minor infractions,” and disregarded old injuries she had suffered. Despite an injury she incurred during one such task, Gonzalez continued to work there until June 1995. She was given back her gun and sent back to the 50th Precinct. Back in the hellhole, her harassers allegedly resorted to their old tricks. “What the fuck are you doing here?” Captain Kissik allegedly asked on seeing Gonzalez in his station house. “I thought you were fired.”
“We thought you were getting fired,” one sergeant chimed in. Then, according to Gonzalez, “Sergeant Gandt harassed me; Sergeant Dunphy threw a bag in my face; my locker was clipped open without any notification.” She said when she complained to Kissik about her locker being broken into, the captain “called me a liar and screamed at the sergeant, ‘I don’t want her in this fuckin’ precinct! Get her out of here.’ ”
In the ensuing months, Kissik allegedly ordered subordinates to “ride” Gonzalez. “I want anything on her,” Kissik reportedly demanded. “Keep her out of the precinct.” In 1995, superiors once again disarmed Gonzalez after she did not accept one of those “undesirable, stigmatizing” assignments because of a mix-up involving a grand jury appearance. The alleged retaliation continued unabated. Everywhere Gonzalez turned, blue walls caved in on her. In March 1996, she felt her enemies in the department finally had decided to get rid of her. “Gonzalez alleges that one evening . . . two plainclothes police officers appeared at her residence and told her they had been asked to take her somewhere for a drug test,” the court document said. “She asserts that, fearing that the officers would harm her, she refused to accompany them and was subsequently charged . . . with refusing to take the [test].”
Gonzalez’s battles with the NYPD did not go unnoticed. Most of her allegations were backed up by Officer Adam Alvarez, an investigator in the department’s advocate’s office. In his deposition, Alvarez “testified to his concern that there was no reasonable suspicion” for Gonzalez to be tested. “Rather, he said, the officers who responded to his inquiries about why the test had been ordered made reference to Gonzalez’s being on [a] ‘hit list’ of troublesome officers wanted off the force.”
Additional reporting: Amanda Ward