University Police officers claim discrimination, denial of due process in complaints

Patrick Svitek, Reporter

Two University Police officers are accusing Northwestern of discrimination based on their race and sexual orientation, claiming they had no chance to fight an allegation of sexual harassment and are now in danger of losing their jobs.

In complaints submitted in February to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the two officers allege the University treats white, straight officers differently than other officers when dealing with workplace grievances. The two officers also accuse NU of failing to properly investigate the allegation against them, which they said they did not learn about until they were punished.

“There was no presumption of innocence,” one of the complaints said. “The burden of proof apparently required no more than a bald allegation, no presentation of facts or evidence.”

The complaints, dated Feb. 5 and Feb. 26, put UP at the center of discrimination claims for the second time in less than two months. In a federal lawsuit filed Thursday, Sgt. Haydee Martinez alleges another sergeant sexually harassed her for being lesbian, among other claims that depict the department as a hostile work environment.

The latest allegations against UP stem from an incident that occurred Sept. 21, 2013, during which the two officers claim they were joking with a third officer about one of them kissing her spouse on the drive to work earlier in the day. The two officers’ attorneys described the conversation as innocent banter among three friendly colleagues.

A fourth officer overheard the conversation and reported it as sexual harassment, according to the complaints, which describe him as a gay colleague with a history of filing workplace grievances. Based on questions they were later asked about the incident, the two officers believe the fourth officer relayed what he overheard to the University as more explicit than it actually was.

In interviews with an NU human services official, the two officers claim they were denied due process and not allowed to have any representation or review the allegation, any evidence or the accuser’s testimony. An appeal of their guilty verdicts to human services was unsuccessful, according to the complaints.

The two officers say they were suspended for three days without pay, demoted and notified they would be fired if another complaint was lodged against them, despite one of them having no prior disciplinary record.

The complaints allege the two officers, who are white, received disparate treatment compared to a black sergeant who was accused of sexual harassment by the same co-worker. The sergeant made disparaging remarks about gay people, including at least one on the force, and no disciplinary action was taken, according to the complaints.

Peter Ross, an attorney for the two officers, said their experience is particularly concerning because it leaves a permanent blemish on their careers.

“They’re making a professional judgment on mere allegations alone,” Ross said of University officials. “We don’t want to see it happen to anybody else, and we don’t want to see it happen to our complainants either.”

Ross likened the alleged lack of due process to what philosophy Prof. Peter Ludlow described in his response last month to sexual harassment allegations by one of his former students. Ludlow called NU’s probe of the Medill junior’s accusations “flawed and one-sided,” claiming the University refused to accept evidence in support of his innocence.

In a statement Monday afternoon, NU spokesman Bob Rowley said the University does not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or any other protected category. Earlier on Monday, a UP spokesman deferred comment to the University.

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