Two Southampton Town Police sergeants have filed civil rights claims against the town and the department, alleging a pattern of sexual discrimination by their superiors.
Sergeant Lisa Costa and Sergeant Susan Ralph each have filed discrimination claims with the New York State Division of Human Rights in the last two weeks, citing what Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato characterized as “a course of conduct” regarding their treatment by the department’s top brass with regard to promotions and duty assignments throughout most of their careers with the town.
The complaints will be investigated by the Human Rights Division, and the town will be given a chance to respond to the allegations. The state investigators will then make a determination as to whether there is probable cause for the claims. If probable cause is found, the commission will convene hearings before an administrative law judge, a process that could take more than a year.
Sgt. Costa has been a Town Police officer for more than 13 years and a sergeant for six. She served with the Suffolk County Park Police for four years prior to joining the town. In July 2011, she was assigned by then Police Chief William Wilson to head the department’s Detectives Division. On at least two occasions, Chief Wilson officially requested that the Town Board promote Sgt. Costa to the rank of lieutenant. In January 2012, Chief Wilson requested three promotions from the board: that Sgt. Costa be promoted to lieutenant, and that officers Steve Miller and Michael Burns be promoted to sergeant. The Town Board granted the promotions of the two men but not that of Sgt. Costa.
In April 2012, the chief wrote a letter to the Town Board again requesting that Sgt. Costa be promoted to lieutenant, saying that she had done “a superlative job in reconstructing and modernizing our investigative unit,” and that “she clearly possess the organizational and analytical skills necessary to excel in any administrative assignment.” He also noted that were she promoted she would be the first female police lieutenant in eastern Suffolk County.
When the board did not respond to his request, he promoted her internally to “acting lieutenant” and assigned her to the duties typically associated with that rank. Shortly after Chief Wilson resigned in December, Sgt. Costa was stripped of her acting lieutenant title by his successor, Chief Robert Pearce. She remains the head of the Detectives Division as a sergeant.
Sgt. Ralph has been with the Town Police for 11 years. She was promoted to sergeant in 2010. She also serves on the town’s Ethics Board. Specific details about the nature of her claim were not available this week.
Neither Sgt. Costa nor Sgt. Ralph would comment on their claims. The attorney representing both women, Leonard Leeds, was unavailable for comment.
Chief Pearce said this week that he has not yet had a chance to review the complaints in detail. He said he plans to meet with Ms. Scarlato sometime in the next few weeks. The chief, who has been with department for 32 years, rejected the idea that there has been a pattern of sexual discrimination within the department during his tenure. “I’m sure this will go its normal course,” the chief said of the complaints.
Ms. Scarlato said that the actual complaints filed by the officers and issued to the town are not a matter of public record until the state investigators make a determination on the probable cause of the claims. She would not say whether the claims name specific members of the police force or the Town Board as having perpetrated the discrimination
While civil rights claims against the town are not uncommon, Ms. Scarlato said the vast majority are found to not have merit by state investigators. The last claim that reached the hearing stage was that of Darlene Troge, a former town employee who charged she was wrongfully terminated in 2011 and discriminated against by Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst’s administration. The supervisor and the town were absolved of wrongdoing by the administrative law judge that heard the case.