(CN) – A federal judge limited the scope of damages two female police officers in the District of Columbia can seek over the alleged harassment they endured after revealing their lesbian relationship.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer in Washington, D.C., allowed squad-car partners Tonia Jones and Kenniss Weeks to pursue their claims of discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, but ruled that they cannot seek unliquidated damages because they failed to properly notify the mayor of their claims, as required by D.C. code.
Jones and Weeks, officers with the Metropolitan Police Department, claimed they were harassed and “blatantly retaliated against” after telling one of their supervisors that they were in a relationship.
They said sergeants called them derogatory, stereotypical names such as “drama queen,” “the butch one” and “the femme one,” and “collectively harassed [them] about their work performance, leave and attendance, overtime requests, vehicle assignments, and work assignments.”
They claimed male co-workers made overt sexual comments and solicitations.
When they filed complaints with their division’s Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance Branch, the police department allegedly retaliated by giving Jones a lower performance evaluation that made her ineligible for a promotion. Weeks was dubbed the “EEO queen” and given discriminatory assignments, according to their federal lawsuit.
They accused the District of Columbia of violating the D.C. Human Rights Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the U.S. Constitution.
The District conceded that the Title VII claims should proceed, but asked Judge Collyer to dismiss the remaining claims.
Collyer allowed the Human Rights Act claims to proceed, but said Weeks and Jones could seek only liquidated damages, including back pay, based on their failure to notify the mayor.
Collyer also dismissed the plaintiffs’ constitutional claims, including the allegation that the District had violated the couple’s free-speech rights when it retaliated against them for filing complaints.
“Plaintiffs’ attempt to link their employment concerns to larger public issues about gay rights fails,” Collyer wrote.
“Each of these instances of ‘speech’ constituted personnel complaints; such speech does not receive First Amendment protection because it does not touch on issues of public concern and it has a full remedial scheme in Title VII and the DCHRA,” she concluded.