Civil Rights & Constitutional Law
Chandra Law obtains $2,000,750 jury verdict for former police chief...
December 15, 2008
Police Officer punished after complaining of gender discrimination
WOODMERE, OHIO - Former Woodmere police officer Erin Thomas today filed a lawsuit charging discrimination, retaliation, and other claims against the Village of Woodmere, Mayor Charles Smith, former Police Chief Terence Calloway, Law Director Frank Consolo, and Patrol Officer Cornell Carter.
Her suit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and damages. It was filed in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.
Ms. Thomas started as a patrol officer in Woodmere in 2008. In 2009, Charles Smith was elected mayor. The complaint alleges that Mayor Smith selected his fraternity brother Terence Calloway as police chief despite Calloway's questionable work history and serious red flags about his fitness for the position. The complaint further alleges that under Smith and Calloway's leadership, the Village's police department became a disrespectful and generally hostile environment for its few female officers.
The complaint alleges that Ms. Thomas was discriminated against in terms of scheduling (that her schedule was constantly changing and that she was not notified of changes to her shifts). The complaint further alleges that Ms. Thomas was sexually harassed by Detective Daniel Cintula, who showed Ms. Thomas a photograph of a penis and made sexual overtures toward her including telling her what he "would do to [her] in the back of the squad car" that "no one would ever know." The complaint also alleges that Ms. Thomas was told not to be "too pushy." None of her male colleagues were subjected to such behavior.
The complaint alleges that when Ms. Thomas complained about discrimination and harassment, former-Chief Calloway told that she was "a woman first and a police officer second" and Mayor Smith told her to "act like a lady." The complaint also alleges that her complaints about harassment and discrimination to senior officers, to the chief, and even to Village council members got her nowhere, and councilmember Lisa Brockwell admitted to Ms. Thomas that Calloway was angry that Ms. Thomas had complained.
After Ms. Thomas complained about harassment and discrimination, Defendants denied her training opportunities, trumped up "discipline" to paper her file, disciplined her more harshly than her male colleagues for petty infractions, and eventually in 2012 terminated her unlawfully as a result of her complaints.
Per the letter notifying Ms. Thomas of her termination, Law Director Frank Consolo made the decision to fire her based on the Mayor's recommendation and a statement from Ms. Thomas' former coworker, Cornell Carter. The complaint alleges that Officer Carter lied about Ms. Thomas-specifically claiming that she had abandoned her post when in fact she had not-thus creating a pretext for Ms. Thomas' retaliatory firing.
The complaint further alleges that after Ms. Thomas was unlawfully terminated, she was hired as a patrol officer in Middlefield. One month into her employment there, she was shot by a motorist with a semi-automatic AK-47. The motorist was killed. Thomas lost her index finger and remains on medical leave.
State anti-discrimination laws forbid gender discrimination and harassment. It is also unlawful discrimination to punish an employee for opposing discrimination.
Ms. Thomas is represented by Subodh Chandra and Ashlie Case Sletvold of The Chandra Law Firm, LLC, along with Lewis Zipkin and In Son J. Loving of Zipkin Whiting.
Thomas's lead counsel, Subodh Chandra, said, "The Village of Woodmere has an undistinguished track record for coming down hard of those who oppose discrimination, including former police chief LaMont Lockhart. Ms. Thomas's unfortunate experience is, as Yogi Bera might have said, like déjà vu all over again. At some point, Woodmere and its officials have to learn that they are not above the law."
In 2008, Chandra tried to jury verdict a similar case against the Village of Woodmere on behalf of LaMont Lockhart, the African-American former police chief. Lockhart proved to the jury that African-American then-mayor Yolanda Broadie retaliated against him for his opposition to her discrimination against white police officers in the department. The jury awarded over $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages, and the case was later settled out of court for over $1.2 million.