A female African American Baltimore Police sergeant and a male Hispanic officer who said they were unfairly accused of fraternization, were harassed and discriminated against by colleagues and treated differently because of a 'good ole’ boy’ system within the department have filed separate lawsuits in federal court.
Sgt. Jasmin Rowlett alleged in a complaint filed Wednesday in Baltimore’s U.S. District Court that the department has “perpetuated a long-standing pattern and practice of discrimination against African American female officers” after she said she was wrongly accused of having a sexual relationship with Officer Luis Garcia. Garcia’s complaint said he was harassed similarly on the basis of race and national origin.
Rowlett joined the department in 2009 and Garcia in 2014. Both remain on the force and were assigned to the Central District when the discrimination began, the lawsuits said.
Dionna Maria Lewis, who is representing both officers, said unfounded rumors have hurt Rowlett’s reputation and her safety as a police officer who must rely on other officers for backup on certain calls.
The complaints said the department has “continually engaged in actions that reinforced the 'good ole’ boy’ system, where it is acceptable for Caucasian men to engage in conduct, even if it violates policy, without being held accountable." By contrast, the lawsuits allege, African American women and Hispanic males are "subjected to punitive measures, adverse and hostile treatment, and put out of work for being rumored to have been engaging in actions that Caucasian males and females were openly engaging in.”
The complaints allege that Rowlett was subject to “false rumors of sexual promiscuity" involving Garcia. When Rowlett and Garcia reported the harassment to supervisors, the complaints said no action was taken.
“This has had a significant impact on her,” Lewis said of the rumors against Rowlett. “It undermines your authority, especially as a woman, especially supervising men. They are not going to give you the respect you deserve.”
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Lewis said Rowlett, who is a single mother of three children, struggled after she was placed on unpaid leave after reporting the allegations internally.
The department was the only named defendant in both complaints.
Police spokesman Matt Jablow declined to comment, citing department policy not to comment on ongoing litigation.
Rowlett and Garcia said they were charged internally with fraternization based upon the rumors only, the complaints said. When a white male officer was known to have a relationship with a white female subordinate, they did not face harassment or internal affairs complaints against them, the complaints alleged.
When Rowlett complained about the harassment to a lieutenant, Rowlett said the lieutenant responded: “You are [a] supervisor, you’re gonna have to deal with people talking about you,” according to the lawsuit.
The complaint said Rowlett was “forced on unpaid administrative leave because she was experiencing distress from the harassment at work,” and was left without pay for nine months because she was found unfit for duty. Rowlett was only able to return to work after providing an independent medical assessment, and “the forced administrative leave was magically lifted,” the complaint said.
Rowlett and Garcia are seeking back pay and compensatory damages.