Women in Law Enforcement Still Face Gender Bias


clipart of woman police officer with cuffs and badge

Introduction

Women today still face gender discrimination in law enforcement and other prestigious career fields. Many people may consider gender bias to be a thing of the past, but the number of recent examples shows evidence it continues to be a problem in today’s workforce.

Women in Uniform

In a mere ten-month period, the police department of Syracuse, New York, lost three lawsuits from women officers claiming to have suffered gender discrimination in the workplace.

  1. In 2010, Officer Katherine Lee was awarded a $400,000 verdict in her case against the police department. Lee had served as a police officer for 14 years before she sued the department on the grounds of sexual harassment and adverse employment actions. According to Lee, any time she would report the unacceptable behavior of her male co-workers, which included making sexually derogatory comments and watching pornographic movies in the workplace, her supervisors would conduct “sham” investigations and then punish her for complaining.
  2. A jury awarded Sgt. Therese Lore a $500,000 verdict. Lore claimed to have been subjected to retaliation by the city of Syracuse after she filed an EEOC complaint alleging that she was not being treated the same as similar ranking males in the department. Lore alleged that as punishment for making the complaint, Lore was subjected to ridicule by her department and in the media.
  3. Syracuse Officer Sonia Dotson was awarded $450. Like Lee, Dotson alleged the males in her department were bringing pornographic material into the workplace. Dotson also claimed she was retaliated against for lodging complaints.

It Doesn’t Stop With Law Enforcement

While some women in police and emergency services careers are being unfairly treated, they are not the only victims. In 2008, Citigroup paid out $33 million in a class-action gender discrimination settlement. Approximately 2500 female brokers at their Smith-Barney unit filed the lawsuit.

In 2007, Morgan Stanley settled a sex-discrimination lawsuit with a $46 million pool. Six female financial advisors who claimed their male peers were receiving higher pay and more promotion opportunities filed the complaint.

Speaking Out

According to an article on Collegiate Times online, the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech in conjunction with the Virginia State Police sponsored an event called “Women in Policing: The Gender Issue.” Representatives from the FBI and local law enforcement spoke out about sexual harassment, stereotypes and physical barriers in the workplace.

Virginia Tech Police Chief Debra Duncan talked about the hard road she traveled to becoming Chief. Captain Kimberly Lettner of the Virginia State Police discussed the additional challenges she felt she was forced to face for being female. The most poignant in her memory were the accusations that she only received her various promotions for being female.

Whether or not change and a better environment for female officers is on the horizon, Duncan offered this sound advice to women contemplating law enforcement careers: “You need to go find a police department and talk to people and do ride-alongs. It’s a commitment and you need to make up your mind to know that that’s what you want to do.”

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