A jury found last week that two women police officers from Santa Barbara, California were harassed and discriminated against because of their gender by the city of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Police Department. The women were awarded $3.2 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Sergeant Juanita Smith and Officer Margaret Hause filed the lawsuit in June 2000, accusing the police department of sex discrimination, gender-based harassment, failure to prevent discrimination, and retaliation. One of the major platforms of the case was that the department had never promoted a woman in its 102-year history. Hardly a coincidence, Juanita Smith was promoted to sergeant on the eve of the trial, becoming the Department’s first woman sergeant.
“This substantial ruling sends a clear message to police departments across the country that discrimination and harassment of women will not be tolerated, and will have severe consequences,” commented Penny Harrington, Founding Director of the National Center for Women & Policing, who testified as an expert witness in the case. “The jury awarded nearly twice as much as Smith and Hause sought, repudiating the police department’s “we didn’t do anything wrong’ attitude,” continued Harrington.
According to the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Center for Women and Policing’s annual survey, women are starkly under-represented in police departments, accounting for only 12.7 percent of sworn officers nationwide in 2001, a decrease from 14 percent in 1999. At 7.3 percent, women are also virtually absent in top command decision-making positions.
The National Center for Women and Policing, a division of the Feminist Majority Foundation, promotes increasing the numbers of women at all ranks of law enforcement as a strategy to improve police response to violence against women, reduce police brutality, and strengthen community policing reforms.