By Libor Jany
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles police sergeant is suing the city, claiming she was targeted in an online harassment campaign because she reported her colleagues for sharing sexist memes. The suit also claims her supervisor tried to suspend and demote her after she complained.
Sgt. Darcy French, who joined the LAPD in 1998, said she reported the behavior to her superiors in the late summer of 2020 in hopes that they would intervene after she became the subject of demeaning and humiliating posts on social media — presumably from others officers.
Instead, her lawsuit alleges, the complaint was ignored for months, and then her superiors “clearly orchestrated a series of actions” aimed at discrediting and retaliating against her for reporting the abuse.
In the suit, filed last month in Los Angeles County Superior Court, French claimed the retaliation didn’t end there. She said she was passed over as a lieutenant on three occasions between February and July 2022. At that time, she claims, she was forced to administratively move out of the Southeast Division, was twice threatened with suspension, and was then marked for demotion from rank of sergeant II to police officer III.
The lawsuit alleges that department management contributed to a hostile work environment by failing to “take prompt and appropriate remedial action to stop the offensive social media posts or to hold the offending employees accountable.”
When reached on Thursday, French’s lawyer, Leila Al Faiz, declined to comment. The Los Angeles city attorney’s office said it could not discuss pending litigation.
Soon after the harassment started, French said she tried to take her concerns to her captain, Clinton Dohmen. But instead of helping her, the suit alleges, Dohmen began avoiding French. He repeatedly canceled or refused meetings with her and deprived her of some of her duties without reason.
He then proceeded to “unfairly” counsel her “for allegedly being mean, hostile and unprofessional based on unspecified and unsupported criticism from unidentified officers who were more likely than not simply disgruntled because Plaintiff reported the memes,” the lawsuit said. the trial.
The hypersexualized posts reportedly began sometime in July 2020 after French became aware of a sexist meme being shared by some Southeast Division officers on her watch. The meme appeared to mock a gang unit officer who had stopped a Southeast officer from using a baton on a suspect.
French claims the meme depicted the baton as a tampon, with the caption reading something like “that’s what [the gang unit] brings to a UOF,” using an initialism for a use-of-force incident.
The meme, the suit says, compared the unidentified gang cop’s actions to the feminine hygiene product “to denote weakness by appealing to negative gender stereotypes.”
French says she admonished the officers under her command during a roll call, warning them that posting or sharing such memes could lead to discipline.
Soon after, she became aware of another “derogatory” meme that featured a Hello Kitty image accompanied by a captain suggesting the gang unit had gone “crying” to the warden of the third shift, French’s position.
French said she continued to raise the issue at subsequent roll calls; as she did, the memes began targeting her specifically and became more vulgar.
The online abuse lasted from about July 2020 to June 2021, the lawsuit alleges.
“Numerous posts or memes made use of negative gender stereotypes, such as depicting Plaintiff as a bird or as a bawling child, contained offensive, degrading, threatening, and sexualized references to Plaintiff, and depicted violence against Plaintiff,” the suit states.
The posts were made on the social media account @chippies_comedy, according to the suit, and “several memes or posts targeted other female department employees because of their sex or gender.”
One such post referred to gang-rape, the alleged case, citing French’s position and the LAPD’s Metropolitan Division.
“The complainant saw these and other offensive posts on social media and learned that they were widely viewed, shared and discussed by LAPD officers throughout the department,” the suit alleges. “The complainant was humiliated, insulted and threatened by this harassing behavior directed at her and other female department staff.”
French said she filed a harassment complaint in July 2020 but was not interviewed by department officials until five months later.
“Yet despite knowledge of the above misconduct expressly targeted [French]LAPD management did not take prompt and appropriate corrective action to stop and remedy the harassment she endured,” the suit read.
The suit alleges that “no appropriate discipline was imposed for these egregious actions.”
The following March, she shared her complaints about the department’s “failure to condemn and remedy the derogatory and degrading” online posts in a letter to the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officer Assn., the suit states. The letter came to the attention of department management and the professional standards agency, it said.
She eventually moved out of Southeast, where she had spent the previous five years, unable to bear the ongoing harassment.
Instead of taking her concerns seriously and investigating the matter, French claims department management retaliated against her by “initiating numerous frivolous complaints.” In 2022, department management twice recommended suspending her for five days for allegations against her of past conduct and also wanted to demote her.
The lawsuit said the department stripped her of most of her duties in May, leaving her with little to do since then.
She filed a whistleblower claim against the city in August.
Over the years, the department has been dogged by allegations from female officers describing a crude, sexist culture within its ranks.
In one of the biggest scandals to rock the department recently, LAPD Captain Lillian Carranza sued the department after other officers began circulating a photo of a naked woman that some falsely claimed was her. Last year, a jury awarded Carranza $4 million in damages.
Jurors in the Carranza case also found that the LAPD failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action to address the hostile environment as required by state law. Another female LAPD detective, Tina Rios, settled her sexual harassment lawsuit against the city in February.
UCLA researchers are looking at the treatment of women across city departments, including the LAPD, as part of a broader study expected to be released this year.
©2023 Los Angeles Times.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
RELATED: The High Costs and Tolls of Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination in Law Enforcement: Part 1 | Part 2