(CN) — Smudging an Ivy League city’s reputation for progressive values, a gay police officer complains in a federal complaint that Ithaca, New York’s antiquated views on gender put her reputation and job in jeopardy.
Sarah Crews, who identifies as gender nonconforming, says the trouble stems from “hetero-normative policies” that mandate same-sex transportation and searches of prisoners.
”Whenever possible, officers of the same gender as the prisoner will transport prisoners,” one department regulation states. ”Searching of a female prisoner shall be accomplished by an on-duty female police officer, or other qualified female person when possible,” says another.
While such policies are meant to shield inmates from sexual assault and officers from false allegations of sexual misconduct, Crews says they have the opposite effect on openly gay officers like her.
Recounting instances of overt harassment from fellow officers and institutional discrimination, the 15-year veteran of the force brought a federal complaint on Feb. 23 against Ithaca and its police chief, John Barber, in the Northern District of New York.
Crews says she began speaking out in March 2011 after one female prisoner she was assigned to supervise started masturbating in her presence. “Hey, big gay woman,” the prisoner allegedly said. “You want some of this? I’m gonna make it up that you did something to me.”
Crews says she made dozens of complaints over the following years about so-called sex-to-sex policies that she decries as closed-minded and unable “to recognize and protect LGBTQ officers and citizens.”
“On more than one occasion, I have been directly threatened by female prisoners who have told me they would fabricate claims against me,” Crews wrote in a formal notice on May 29, 2015. “I have tolerated this for years, and have verbally brought my concerns to supervisors. I have been ridiculed and treated with hostility because I expressed my concerns. I have reached the point where I can no longer tolerate this situation.”
The department allegedly sent Crews to less desirable beats in retaliation for this letter. Continued objections to this policy over the summer allegedly got Crews disciplined for insubordination.
Efforts to update department policies with LGBT officers in mind are already underway about three hours away from Ithaca in Albany, the capital city of New York. Crews says her union attorney urged Ithaca to create a committee exploring how to learn from this model, but that Ithaca ignored this proposal.
Ithaca’s Chief Barber did not respond to an email request for comment.
For Crews, Ithaca’s policies mirror a broader problem of a hostile work environment.
“While some employees in the IPD have been accepting of her sexual orientation and non-conforming gender characteristics, others have insidiously bullied her for her appearance and affect,” the 19-page lawsuit states.
When Crews joined the force in 2007, according to the complaint, she endured some harassment invoking that year’s blockbuster film “Superbad.”
Crews says someone doctored up a McLovin driver’s license from the movie with her face superimposed over the photo, equating her with the “‘uncool’ sex-obsessed male character.”
Two officers faced discipline for that incident, but Crews says that did not stop other officers from making cracks about her appearance. Some officers called Crews a “bus driver” because of her decision to wear a tie with her uniform, according to the lawsuit.
Crews seeks damages, alleging sex discrimination under Title VII, hostile work environment, retaliation, and denial of due process.
Her attorney Edward Kopko has not returned a phone message seeking comment.