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Southampton cops settle another discrimination suit

Southampton, Hampton Bays Police station

For the second time in less than a year, Southampton Town has settled a discrimination lawsuit filed by a high-ranking female police officer.

The latest case involves Lt. Susan Ralph, who sued the town, former police chief Robert Pearce and Lt. James Kiernan in 2015, alleging that, among other complaints, she was removed from job responsibilities and passed over for promotions in favor of male officers. 

The settlement awarded her $120,000; one-time credits for 59 days of sick time and seven vacation days; use of a town-owned police vehicle when approved by the police chief; and department recommendation to apply for the FBI Academy training in Quantico, Va.

The settlement was reached March 23 but not made public until last week. The cases against Mr. Pearce and Lt. Kiernan were discontinued before the settlement. 

Lt. Ralph’s settlement states that she and the town “each acknowledge and agree that this settlement shall not be construed as an admission of fault, wrongdoing or liability,” nor is it an admission that Lt. Ralph’s claims lack merit.

A 2013 discrimination lawsuit filed by Southampton Det. Sgt. Lisa Costa, who heads the detective unit, was settled in August 2017, although that agreement wasn’t made public until early January 2018. 

Det. Sgt. Costa was awarded $300,000 and a one-time credit of 22 sick days. Her settlement also contained a statement that both sides “acknowledge and agree that this settlement shall not be construed as an admission of any fault, wrongdoing or liability whatsoever on the part of the other.”

Her lawsuit had been filed against the town, the town police department and Mr. Pearce. 

Lt. Ralph’s lawsuit also claims that she was retaliated against for “speaking as a public citizen” about the department’s handling of an officer with a substance abuse problem. 

She testified before the Suffolk County Police Internal Affairs Bureau about the officer, Eric Sickles, saying she had seen him with a department gun and driving a department vehicle, which he was not supposed to do at that time, and that his supervisor, Lt. Kiernan, knew about this, according to the lawsuit. 

Mr. Sickles, who officials said had a prescription painkiller addiction, was suspended in July 2012 and reinstated in March 2013. 

This testimony led to the suspension of Lt. Kiernan, while the county IAB investigated charges against him, and, Lt. Ralph’s lawsuit claimed, led to retaliation against her by department members. This including being removed from job responsibilities and training that could affect the amount of overtime she could make and reduced opportunities to further her career. 

Lt. Ralph’s lawsuit also said she was hired as a full-time officer in 2002, eight years after she first applied, and was promoted to detective in 2005, but only after three male officers declined the promotion.

She was promoted to sergeant in 2010, but says in the lawsuit that the promotion was not discretionary and was based on her rank on the civil service list. 

After a six-month suspension, Lt. Kiernan signed a confidential settlement with the town that resulted in  his reinstatement in October 2012. 

In January 2013, Lt. Ralph filed  a discrimination charge against the department with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, citing discrimination against her and other female officers. She said in the lawsuit that in the months following the discrimination charge, her work environment began to deteriorate and assignments were being taken from her. 

She became the department’s first female lieutenant in March 2015. Town officials said at the time that she was appointed because of her score on the civil service exam, and not due to the lawsuit. 

Town attorney James Burke and Matthew Weinick, the attorney for Lt. Ralph, issued a joint statement on the settlement to local media. 

“It was in the best interests of the town and the police department to find a resolution which could end this prolonged litigation and we’re happy that we were able to do so,” Mr. Burke says in the statement.

“Litigation is always uncertain, and with this settlement comes some closure and peace of mind of Lieutenant Ralph,” Mr. Weinick said.

The joint statement says the town’s insurance carrier will pay a significant portion of the $120,000 awarded to Lt. Ralph.

Det. Sgt. Costa’s case also cited “relentless gender discrimination … in the form of a hostile environment, failure to promote and other adverse employment actions committed against her.”

Her lawsuit stated that the Southampton Town Board declined to promote her to lieutenant, despite the recommendation of then-chief William Wilson, and that two males that Mr. Wilson had recommended for promotion to sergeant were appointed. The lawsuit also says that when Mr. Pearce took over as chief after Mr. Wilson resigned, the recommendation to promote her to lieutenant was withdrawn and a male was recommended instead and approved by the Town Board. Mr. Pearce also stripped her of the title of acting lieutenant, which she had been given during Mr. Wilson tenure as chief.

Like Lt. Ralph, Det. Sgt. Costa also filed an EEOC complaint before filing a lawsuit. 

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