2 women file discrimination suit against North Port police

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NORTH PORT, Fla. – Two former employees are suing the North Port Police Department for sexual discrimination, accusing the department of using gender to target them for termination.

Stevie Connell and Melanie Derossett’s lawsuit alleges that the police department violated the Equal Protection clause, discriminated against them based on their gender and disability, and interfered in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

According to the lawsuit, Connell, who became a police officer in 2012, received outstanding performance reviews until “she rejected social invitations by her male supervisor.” Connell was often the only woman invited to these social gatherings.

After her work partner’s attendance at one of these social events ended in arrest then suicide, Connell was labeled a “lesbian” and a “lone wolf” by her colleagues and her superiors denied her two promotions, according to her lawsuit. Instead, two less-qualified men were selected, which is indicative of a “standard practice for the City:” the failure to promote female officers, the lawsuit said.

In 2015 Connell was placed on administrative leave, but only after the department was unable to find a reason for her termination, according to the the lawsuit. She was lambasted for the same qualities of leadership found desirable in men and discriminated against for perceived disabilities, the lawsuit claims.

A second officer, Derossett, claims that she was scrutinized differently than male colleagues. She became an officer in 2004, but took medical leave in 2013 when she began to suffer from problems with her reproductive organs. Months later she was ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation, though according to the lawsuit, men were not required to do the same. Shortly after, Derossett received her first negative performance review.

Derossett was forced to resign, the lawsuit alleges, after she was erroneously investigated and cleared of charges relating to an incident at a private officer party.

The lawsuit claims that women’s mental heath is routinely questioned, calling into question why both officers were ordered to have psychological exams.

“These female officers have their mental state questioned by the City and the City then sends them for a psychological evaluation that it seeks to manipulate into a finding of them being unfit for duty,” the lawsuit said.

When asked for comment, North Port police responded saying the city has yet to have been served the lawsuit.

“The City of North Port understands a lawsuit has just been filed against the City. However, the City has not been served with any lawsuit. When we get one, it will be reviewed with the City’s legal counsel. At this time we unfortunately can not make further comment,” North Port PD said in a written statement.

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