Standing Up to Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation
Dionna Maria Lewis, Esq., is the managing attorney representing Sergeants Yampierre, Rowlett, and Grant. She is also the founder of The District Legal Group, a small boutique litigation firm based in Washington, D.C.
Sergeant Danika Yampierre, a 16-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department stated, “The hostile work environment resulted in the premature birth of her baby causing her to deliver her baby on the sidewalk without any professional help, in 30-degree weather.”
Sergeant Jasmin Rowlett, a 12-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department alleges a White officer sexually harassed her, "I have been called a snitch and toy rats were placed on my desk after these investigations were leaked through the department."
Sergeant Welai Grant, a 14-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department blew the whistle on a White commander for calling an African American applicant the N-word. “Shortly thereafter, I was tormented, threatened, and retaliated against.”
Today’s presentation opened with introductions by Terry L. Watson, Founder of Strategies for Justice and the host of Moses' People Speak. Prior to introductions, Mr. Watson had an announcement for those who have been attending our episodes and know that we have been discussing mental health and law enforcement and today we are happy to announce that we have the Save-the-Date for our Annual Symposium being held April 7 through April 9, 2022. The Symposium topic is going to be “Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health and Policing.”
Mr. Watson began the discussion by proposing a question to each one of the sergeants. He explained that when we advertised this episode there were a number of people who RSVP’d asking this same exact question, “Can you explain your law enforcement experience and how it led you to file this lawsuit?”
Sergeant Grant was the first to respond! She explained how she blew the whistle on a White commander who said something egregious to an African American applicant. At the time, she was a supervisor and followed all procedures in filing her complaint, and that is when the tormenting and threats began. And, to her dismay, these threats and torments were coming from the police commissioner. The commissioner told her she was placing herself in a coffin. From then on, she was retaliated against, including being bypassed for promotions with no valid reason. The emotional stress was so traumatic she began to second guess herself and wondered whether speaking out was a good idea.
Sergeant Yampierre’s problems began in 2019 while working for a White lieutenant commander who had her falsifying overtime for a suspended officer. At the time, she was pregnant and was allowed accommodations for doctor’s appointments as her pregnancy was high risk. There were also sexual harassment incidents where she and another female sergeant were asked numerous times to go out on dates with him. The lieutenant threatened to take the accommodations away if she refused his advancements. She was subjected to transfers and frivolous complaints that she was blowing the whistle on the activities in her unit. Her traumatic experiences and the stress caused her to deliver her child prematurely. Every effort was made by filing complaints internally to the director, who was the lieutenant’s superior, the deputy commissioner, the chief of staff, and the commissioner at City Hall, all to no avail. She felt she had no recourse but to file externally with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (E.E.O.C).
Sergeant Rowlett’s situation was similar to the other sergeants in that she was sexually harassed by a White male supervisor on her shift. The same protocol was followed in addressing the fact that he had never been with a Black girl and wanted her to be his first. He wanted her to wear his clothes all day so he could go home smelling like her. At 2:00 a.m. he would Face-time her, and if she didn’t pick up, the next day he would subject her to yelling and cursing in front of the other officers questioning why she didn’t answer his call. Once she reported these harassing incidents to her Major and revealed her pregnancy, which she had been keeping silent because of the way pregnant officers are treated, everything went downhill. Someone in her unit went as far as to place toy rats on her desk. Even with her pregnancy being high risk, the accommodations given to her were taken away. She was ordered to do everything her doctor ordered her not to do, i.e., stand on foot with the rest of the shift, do roll-call, etc. She went out on a two-day medical leave and was sent a text message to come in and clear her desk, which was being given to the officer who was sexually harassing her.
Ms. Lewis chimed in at this time to give a more detailed explanation as to how these young ladies got to this point. “They were treated like crap in their workplace for various reasons whether it was because they were being subjected to differential treatment, disparate treatment whether they were trying to be forced as Black women to engage in what they believed to be unethical workplace practices and they reported it.” Ms. Lewis went on to explain the common thread here was that each of the women reported internally the issues and hostilities being subjected to and as a result, there was no reprieve. No one listened, no one answered their call for help, and it appeared that no one really cared. After following their internal protocols reporting these incidents multiple times, and filing their claims federally with the E.E.O.C., again to no avail. Basically, these young women had no recourse but to take a stand for themselves, and that is how they got to this point.
Mr. Watson directed his next question specifically to Ms. Lewis, “… is discrimination in regards to using AWOL as a tactic, or providing a workplace accommodation and then taking it back?” Ms. Lewis went on to explain in detail the procedure in assessing a legal claim when discussing retaliation and how there has to be a consideration of the proximity of time which involves the consideration of statutorily protected activity covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ms. Lewis was also asked to share the advice she would pass along to those being retaliated against in the workplace and are being forced to take different actions not because of their work but because of the retaliation they are experiencing. One important mention was the importance of documentation and how it played a huge part in proving your claim. Also, each of these sergeants gave examples of how they documented with timestamps and explained how easy it is to forget details unless they are written down. Another important tip given was not to leave important documentation on your office computer, but to first print and then erase all information.
As part of today’s discussion, there were additional issues mentioned such as your Black male counterparts and what these young sergeants would like to see from them and Black women within their departments and their role in supporting those being targeted by their superiors. Mental health issues were discussed, and how you receive and support yourself during these stressful times. There was also mention of getting the community to rally for internal representation and support as each one of these officers was forced to seek outside support. Town Hall meetings were also a suggestion as a way to perhaps stop these officers from violating Black communities.
Lastly, the message to America from our guest speakers!
Dionna Maria Lewis, Esq.: “I would first like to say treat women equitably! Treat Black people equitably, we are all humans, we are all a part of the human race and you know at the end of the day the only thing that really sometimes divides us is the way we look and that is so superficial we all have hearts we all have brains we all have minds and if you really just lead your life with a little bit of compassion a little bit of grace and a little bit of mercy that will go a long way.”
Sergeant Welai Grant: Well to answer the question, I would definitely put out there that racial and gender discrimination it exists whether in the police department or outside. Racism is alive and well and this is what's going on and the battle of equality it continues and that's what I would like to put out there.”
Sergeant Jasmin Rowlett: “I guess I would say, it has been an uphill battle for all of us but at the end of the day we aren't looking for anything outside of just being treated fairly just being able to come to work and feel safe come to work and feel welcome come to work and feel I guess like you fit in. We don't fit in right now and we just want to fit in that's it. We want to go to work and not have to feel bruised and battered at the end of our shift and I think that I’m speaking for most Black women in police departments all across America when I say that.”
Sergeant Danika Yampierre: “We would like to be treated equally. We would like to be treated equally as Black women. We would like to have a seat at the table and be able to speak and not be seen I mean not be seen and not heard. We would like to be able to speak and be equal to the men. It's said that we are still fighting for equal rights just as the men like equal pay and equal positions. We are still fighting this uphill battle and it's sad that us as Black women are really fighting it even harder because we have to prove ourselves 10 times more than any other race and it's sad, so I would like for us to be able to be equal to have a seat at the table and to be able to speak and be able to give our ideas to be able to give our experiences and be able to be there and be comfortable there and not uncomfortable because they allowed us to be there but they really don't want us to be there. No, we worked very, very hard for these positions and we earned these positions nothing was given to us, so we should be able to stand up for ourselves and have equal rights just like everybody else.”
If you missed it, you can watch the recording
About the author
Elinor A. McNeel, currently retired after a lengthy career as a Legal Assistant, decided to return to school and is presently attending Penn State University completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Law and Society. She enjoys reading a good book, writing, editing, and anything involving technology. Elinor is a published author of Understanding Rhetoric: A Student Guide with Samples and Analysis. Originally from Chicago, Ill, her family relocated to Los Angeles, California where she presently resides.