Two Baltimore police officers filed separate federal civil rights lawsuits Wednesday, alleging racial discrimination and sexual harassment within the department.
Sgt. Jasmin N. Rowlett, a black female member of the Baltimore Police Department since 2009, and Luis Garcia, a Hispanic male officer since 2014, filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Baltimore alleging violations of federal law.
The lawsuits accused the department of actions “that reinforced the ‘good ole’ boy’ system” by allowing white male officers to engage in conduct for which officers of color and female officers are disproportionately punished.
Rowlett, who was assigned to the Central District, claims she “has consistently been the target of sexual harassment, retaliation, workplace hostility, and gender discrimination because of her race and sex,” according to the complaint. Officers have allegedly spread “false rumors of sexual promiscuity” about her and falsely accused her of being in a sexual relationship with Garcia, a subordinate officer.
Garcia met Rowlett when he was assigned to the Central District in January 2018 and shortly afterward was informed about the rumors that he was engaging in a sexual relationship with her, according to his complaint. Garcia alleges his supervisor taunted him with offensive and abusive language based on his ethnicity.
Attorney Dionna Maria Lewis, who represents both plaintiffs, said Garcia has stories of being on patrol and calling for backup which does not come.
“That puts officers’ safety in jeopardy,” she said Thursday. “We do not want that for our brothers and sisters in blue.”
In addition to rumors, Rowlett alleges that after Garcia complained about harassment to his direct supervisor, the supervisor made unwanted sexual advances toward Rowlett, according to the complaint.
Rowlett was charged with fraternization while male officers dated their subordinates without consequences, according to the complaint. She argues she was treated differently based on her race and sex.
Garcia was also charged with fraternization despite other examples within the department of other male officers being in relationships with colleagues, according to the complaint.
Both plaintiffs deny engaging in a sexual relationship.
“It appears that the Department only takes issues with colleagues who have personal relationships or friendships, when the parties involved are from different races or ethnicities,” Garcia’s complaint alleges. “Sergeant Rowlett and Officer Garcia have not engaged in any inappropriate actions, they have not engaged in any romantic relationships, and outside of work only have a (platonic) friendship.”
Both plaintiffs have filed complaints but not received any relief from the department.
“I think that they want to feel safe and they want to feel supported in terms of doing their jobs and they want to be left alone,” said Lewis, of District Legal Group PLLC in Washington.
Rowlett requested transfers and other action from the department but eventually went on unpaid administrative leave due to distress from the situation, the complaint states. The police department refused to certify her as ready to return to work for nine months, leaving her without pay, according to the complaint.
Garcia was moved to a different sector in what he believes was retaliation and later placed on unpaid medical leave with no explanation, according to the complaint, and has yet to be certified fit for duty by the department despite presenting independent medical evaluations.
Lewis said both her clients are distressed by the situation, including being out of work for months.
“They have experienced true financial turmoil,” she said.
Rowlett contends the department has a pattern and practice of discrimination against black female officers by maintaining and allowing a hostile work environment, retaliating against those who complain and treating women differently in disciplinary matters.
“Sgt. Rowlett has consistently been a vocal advocate against the discrimination and unfair treatment of African American and female Officers at the BPD,” the complaint states. “As a result, the BPD created a targeted scheme to silence Sgt. Rowlett by undermining authority over her direct reports, denying her requests for transfer, and charging her with fraternization.”
Garcia similarly alleges a pattern of discrimination against Hispanic male officers.
Both lawsuits allege race discrimination, sex discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation. Garcia also alleges discrimination based on national origin.
Lewis said filing suit was a “very tough decision” and they attempted to work with the city to reach a resolution first.
“They were really trying to wait the process out,” she said.
Baltimore City Solicitor Andre M. Davis declined to comment Thursday, saying the city had not yet seen the lawsuits.
The cases are Jasmin N. Rowlett v. Baltimore City, Maryland; Baltimore Police Department, 1:19-cv-02896, and Luis Garcia v. Baltimore City, Maryland; Baltimore Police Department, 1:19-cv-02905.