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Female Baltimore Police sergeants file lawsuits alleging discrimination, retaliation

Dionna Lewis, front, stands with the four Baltimore Police sergeants who have filed lawsuits alleging discrimination and retaliation in the department. (Madeleine O’Neill / The Daily Record)

Four Black female police sergeants have filed discrimination lawsuits against the Baltimore Police Department, alleging a culture of racism, sexism and retaliation against officers who complain about the work environment.

At a news conference Friday, the sergeants appeared with their lawyer, Dionna Lewis, to call on the police department to address their concerns.

One woman said that a toy rat began appearing on her desk after she reported a male sergeant for sexual harassment.

Another said that the retaliation she faced at work became so stressful that it exacerbated her high-risk pregnancy. She claims that the pressure caused medical complications that led her to give birth on a sidewalk in March 2020.

“At what point will there be oversight and accountability of BPD’s own internal practices?” Lewis asked at the news conference. “Today we ask, what about BPD’s violations against its own service members? What about the pattern and practice of BPD’s conduct that violates its own officers’ federal and state rights against discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment?”

All of the lawsuits are filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland. Three complaints were filed in May, while the fourth was filed in August.

The sergeants who filed the lawsuits are: Danika Yampierre, Jasmin Rowlett, Welai Grant and Tashawna Gaines.

Yampierre alleges in her complaint that she was subjected to constant retaliation after she reported other officers’ wrongful conduct, including sexual harassment. She claims that she was written up repeatedly on trumped-up allegations and transferred against her will from an administrative position to a patrol post in the Eastern District.

The harassment and retaliation, she said, ultimately caused so much stress that she suffered medical complications and gave birth without medical help on a sidewalk.

“They have created a profoundly toxic work environment,” Yampierre said. “Who can we trust and depend on for help as Black women police officers?”

Rowlett also alleges that she faced discrimination during a pregnancy and for reporting sexual harassment. Her complaint claims that another sergeant made frequent sexual comments to her, including, “I’ve never been with a black girl” and “I want you to be my first black girl.”

When Rowlett declined his advances, according to the complaint, the white male sergeant became aggressive toward her. When she reported his behavior, he began referring to her as a “snitch.”

In March 2020, a toy rat began appearing on Rowlett’s desk, the complaint claims. Her pregnancy-related work accommodations were also revoked, and she was forced to give up her desk to her harasser, according to the complaint.

“I have been called a snitch after these investigations have been leaked through the department,” Rowlett said.

Another sergeant, Welai Grant, said that she faced retaliation after she reported that a white male commander used a racial slur to describe an applicant to the department. She lost out on a promotion, faced enhanced scrutiny and was transferred involuntarily, according to the complaint.

Tashawna Gaines, a former sergeant, claims that she rejoined the department in 2017 but was denied the chance to be reinstated as a sergeant.

Her complaint alleges that male officers were reinstated to their former ranks when they returned to the department.

“I wasn’t one of the boys,” Gaines said Friday.

The city has filed motions to dismiss in three of the lawsuits. The city’s law department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In its response to Yampierre’s claims, the police department wrote that the lawsuit was an attempt to ask a judge to “referee a workplace feud,” and that she was properly held accountable for failing to “manage a difficult coworker.”

The department wrote in response to Gaines’ lawsuit that she chose to leave the department voluntarily because she was not permitted to hold a second job as a part-time news reporter. The motion to dismiss describes her as a “disgruntled former employee.”

And the department’s response to Rowlett’s lawsuit argues that the suit should be thrown out because Rowlett previously filed a discrimination case against the department, which she settled for $77,000 in 2020.

“(Rowlett) rehashes, reframes, and refashions prior allegations and the continuing action thereof and now demands relief through this second lawsuit,” the department wrote.

The female sergeants appeared Friday with support from Kobi Little, the president of the Baltimore City NAACP, and from the National Black Police Association and the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers.