Philadelphia hit with $1 million verdict in bias suit by two female former officers

(Kimberly Paynter / WHYY)

(Kimberly Paynter / WHYY)

Two former police officers whose gender discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit led Philadelphia’s police commissioner to resign have won a $1 million verdict against the city.

A federal jury on Tuesday found that Cpl. Audra McCowan and Patrol Officer Jennifer Allen endured a hostile work environment that included being put in undesirable jobs, with changing shifts, after they raised sexual harassment complaints. They each won $500,000.

McCowan, Allen’s supervisor, alleged that former Commissioner Richard Ross failed to help because she had ended a romantic relationship with him in 2011. Ross denied engaging in any retaliation, but resigned, when the allegations surfaced in 2019, for what he called the good of the city.

The city then hired Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, the first Black woman to lead the department, to succeed him.

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McCowan now works at a school for less than half her former pay, while Allen remains unable to work, according to their lawyer, Ian Bryson. A psychiatrist testified at the weeklong trial that both suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome from the 15 years each spent in the Philadelphia Police Department, he said.

“I think this verdict sent a message that this isn’t how you treat people,” Bryson said.

The city, asked for a response, had no immediate comment on the verdict.

Mayor Jim Kenney, when Ross stepped down, agreed the police department had not done enough to address a culture that made it difficult for women, especially women of color, to work there.

According to the lawsuit, male colleagues repeatedly touched Allen on the backside, made it difficult for her to breastfeed at work, and allegedly tampered with breast milk stored in the office refrigerator. Some of those claims were dropped before the case went to the jury, Bryson said.

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