Southampton police sergeant files gender discrimination suit

04/28/2014 6:32 PM |

SHCops

A female Southampton Town police sergeant has filed a federal gender discrimination lawsuit against the town, its police department and the current police chief, alleging “egregious and relentless” discrimination, including a “hostile” workplace and retaliation against her for reporting the department to U.S. and state civil rights authorities, court papers show. 

Detective Sergeant Lisa Costa — who, along with another female sergeant alerted the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state Division of Human Rights to alleged discrimination last year — accuses members of the department of harassing her on a “nearly daily basis,” according to court documents filed in the Eastern District Court of New York Friday.

The Southampton Town Attorney’s Office and lawyers for Sgt. Costa could not be immediately reached for comment Monday evening.

Sgt. Costa was hired in 1999, and was promoted to detective sergeant in July 2011. She claims in the suit that she then “ran smack into the glass ceiling” for female police officers in the department, noting that no woman has ever been promoted to lieutenant.

In the complaint, Sgt. Costa also alleged repeated harassment dating back to the year she was hired. She claims that former Police Chief James Overton would “attempt to spend time alone with [her]” by seeking her out during overnight walking tours. Her fellow officers would “openly take bets” to see if the chief would go “on the prowl” to find her, according to the allegations.

Sgt. Costa also claims that during her pregnancy in 2005, several superior officers commented about her breasts, including one lieutenant who allegedly made a “cupping gesture” and remarking that “they got huge,” the lawsuit states. She was later ordered to break her maternity leave early to attend supervisory school or face demotion, and faced nicknames related to her appearance, the suit alleges.

Chief Wilson promoted Sgt. Costa to the title of “acting lieutenant” in 2012 after the Southampton Town Board would not promote her, according to an article on 27east.com.

After Chief Robert Pearce took over the department and as a result of her claims last year, Sgt. Costa’s title was changed back to sergeant, the suit claims.

Chief Pearce also stripped Sgt. Costa of her positions as patrol supervisor, internal investigations, and defensive tactics trainer. The department later filled those positions with male officers, one of whom refused to allow Sgt. Costa to participate in the training sessions at all, according to the suit.

Her salary was lowered due to her demotions, she alleges.

In addition, Chief Pearce is accused of implying that Sgt. Costa had an affair with former Police Chief William Wilson, who resigned in 2012 after battling the Town Board over funding issues and facing investigations into previous alleged wrongdoing by the town’s Street Crime Unit.

Chief Pearce also denied Sgt. Costa overtime after Superstorm Sandy, despite giving overtime to other male officers, the suit alleges.

Sgt. Costa is seeking monetary damages for violating her civil rights, damaging her career and “emotional distress and/or mental anguish,” as well as a court injunction against future discrimination, according to the lawsuit.

psquire@timesreview.com