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Officers file suits over sex discrimination, retaliation

Aug 20 2021

As it appeared in the Shoreline Times

MADISON — Three female officers have filed lawsuits, alleging a pattern of sexual discrimination and retaliation within the town’s police department, where they say women are routinely passed over for promotions and coveted job assignments due to their gender or pregnancies.

The charges against the department and Madison Police Chief John “Jack” Drumm are outlined in two lawsuits that date back to January 2020. Two of the women involved in the suits still work for the department — Sgt. Kimberly Lauria and Officer Natasha Pucillo — while a third, Officer Cara Hewes, resigned last year.

Hewes filed a federal lawsuit against the department shortly before she left last March, alleging she was stripped of her job as a narcotics K-9 handler after she became pregnant in 2018, despite a note from her doctor stating she could continue to perform the work.

The second lawsuit was filed in June in state Superior Court at New Haven. Co-plaintiffs Lauria and Pucillo each alleged they were subjected to hostile and belittling remarks by colleagues, and they were passed over for job assignments given to male officers with the same or lesser qualifications.

The state lawsuit also claims that of the six women who have worked on Madison’s police force in the last decade, all have either left the department, filed lawsuits alleging discrimination — or both.

“I think it’s pretty clear that when the department under Chief Drumm is zero for six in keeping (female officers) employed or content. … There’s clearly a pattern of discrimination,” said Stephen Fitzgerald, an attorney for Lauria and Pucillo.

Cindy Cieslak, an attorney with the Rose Kallor Law Firm, who is defending the town against the suits, released a statement Wednesday in response to the allegations.

“With respect to the allegations raised in those lawsuits, the town recognizes that individuals have the right to bring such charges; however, the Town of Madison and the police department wholly deny all allegations of discrimination and harassment,” Cieslak wrote in an email. “Because these matters are the subject of ongoing litigation, the town looks forward to further litigating these matters and vindicating itself in court.”

The lawsuits are the latest complaints filed by female police officers, alleging discrimination within the department. Former police officer Patricia Alonso sued the force in 2013, claiming Drumm had declined to assign her desk duty during a pregnancy, and when she returned from maternity leave, she was subject to extra training requirements not placed on male officers returning from extended leave.

Alonso’s lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed sum in 2016.

“I think there’s a clear pattern of treatment that the town has toward their female officers, in particular, their pregnant female officers,” said Claire Howard, an attorney for Hewes.

Attorneys for the town have yet to respond to the lawsuit filed by Lauria and Pucillo. However, in a response to Hewes’ federal lawsuit, the town denied knowledge about many of her allegations, while disputing the accuracy of others.

In her lawsuit, Hewes alleged that Drumm told her he was thinking “more like a parent than a cop” when explaining his rationale for pulling her from K-9 and narcotics duty. In a response filed with the court, the town stated it did not have specific knowledge of the conversation, but it was “wholly reasonable” for Drumm to be concerned about Hewes handling narcotics during her pregnancy.

The response also stated that Hewes never applied to return to her job as a K-9 handler when she came off maternity leave, rebutting the officer’s claim that she was unable to apply for openings on the team that were given to male officers.

All three women said in their lawsuits that they were subject to harassing comments by colleagues, which they said were not similarly directed to male officers. Those ranged from being publicly reprimanded for arriving late to work to accusing women of having bad attitudes and spreading false rumors about one officer’s sexual relationships, the lawsuits state.

In one instance late last year, Pucillo alleged Drumm “hurled insults” at her after she filed a grievance, alleging she had been improperly assigned an overtime shift, the lawsuit states. Pucillo said Drumm called her a “troublemaker” during the altercation, which was also overheard by Lauria, according to the lawsuit.

Drumm declined to comment when reached last week, citing the ongoing litigation.

According to the lawsuits, all three women filed discrimination complaints against the Madison Police Department with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Lauria’s complaint with the CHRO was dismissed, according to her attorney. The remaining, made by all three women, were released from the jurisdiction of the commissions, allowing the women to take their claims to court, their lawyers said.

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