Former officer alleges harassment
Former female ASU police officer has filed discrimination lawsuit
by Amanda Keim
published on Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Jenna Russell dreamt of becoming a police officer since she was 6. She proved to her father that a woman could attain that goal when she graduated near the top of her police class.
But now that she has come forward with the story of harassment she said she received as a female police officer with ASU police, she knows no police department is likely to hire her again, she said.
Russell resigned from the department in October 2003 after what she alleges was more than a year of harassment and mistreatment. She filed a sexual retaliation and discrimination suit against ASU police with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Jan. 26.
ASU Cmdr. John Sutton said the department had been served with a notification to a claim by the commission.
Russell originally was hired as an officer for ASU West in August 2002 after being a reserve officer in the Goodyear Police Department.
“I chose ASU because I wanted that family atmosphere [in the department],” Russell said.
Russell first faced problems when completing field training at ASU West in October 2002. She said that her field-training officer refused to turn off the Howard Stern radio show in the patrol vehicle after Russell repeatedly told him it made her uncomfortable “as a woman.”
After she complained to her sergeant, the department switched Russell’s field-training officer assignment, she said.
Russell said she completed field training with above-ave- rage reviews.
But she said that after her complaints were made, several officers made “snide comments about sexuality.”
One officer allegedly made several comments about Russell’s sex and disregarded her authority when she was the officer in charge. When she tried to confront him about one particular incident, he began yelling and then left his shift, she said.
“If that had been me, I would have been fired the next day,” Russell said.
Superiors ignored Russell’s complaints about the officer’s behavior, she added.
In December, the three ASU campus police departments began to merge into one department. In February, Russell became the first officer assigned to complete an orientation program at the main campus, she said.
Russell said she was told the orientation program would last two weeks, but when she got to ASU Main, she found she would have to complete the same 10-week field-training program she had successfully finished at ASU West a few months earlier.
This time, she passed the program with above-average reviews in seven weeks.
But Russell’s overall field-training evaluation told a different story.
The evaluation was compiled by a sergeant who based the report on an interview with Russell’s field-training officer and written evaluations, Russell said. It said she “had training issues, was insubordinate, did not get along with others and had an attitude problem,” Russell added.
“I couldn’t believe this entire thing was about me,” she said.
When Russell asked her primary field-training officer about the report, he said the evaluation did not reflect what he had told the sergeant.
Despite these problems with the administration, Russell requested a permanent transfer to ASU Main in June 2003.
“The officers I worked with were great,” Russell said. “I love them.
“You rarely have to deal with [the administration] unless there was an issue,” she said.
Russell withdrew her request shortly after the departments merged on July 1. She needed to stay on the graveyard shift at ASU West to accommodate a situation at home, she said.
But instead, ASU West transferred Russell to a daytime shift in August. Russell tried to retain her night shift, but the request was denied.
Even after explaining her situation to superiors and learning another officer with five years of seniority wanted the day shift, Russell’s request was still denied, she said.
ASU police and ASU General Counsel could not comment on specifics of the case due to commission guidelines.
Russell has not hired a lawyer and does not want financial compensation from ASU at this point, she said.
But giving up her career and bringing to light her story will hopefully start to force the department to evaluate its treatment of women, she said.
“I know I’m not going to change the world, but damn it, I’m going to make a dent,” Russell said.