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Black female police officers allege discrimination, harassment in lawsuits

Four women have sued the Baltimore Police Department, one of several big-city forces facing such claims.

Sgt. Danika Yampierre knew she’d had enough when the stress from workplace hostility led her to give birth to her third child on the sidewalk, she said in a lawsuit filed against the Baltimore Police Department.

Yampierre said in the document that she had to undergo emergency surgery because of complications from the birth, an experience that prompted her to sue the department where she's worked for 15 years.

Three other Black female police officers have also filed lawsuits against the Baltimore Police Department, claiming they were discriminated against based on their race and gender.

Image: Danika Yampierre
Danika Yampierre, current sergeant at Baltimore Police Department.NBC News

Yampierre, a mother of three with another on the way, is sworn to protect the community, but the retaliation and hostility she said she experienced at work after reporting acts of discrimination has left her fighting to protect herself. 

“I would never want my children to experience this and to see everything that I’m going through,” she said. “I’m supposed to be their hero.”

Image: Tashawna Gaines, Danika Yampierre, Welai Grant, and Jasmin Rowlett.
From left: Tashawna Gaines, Danika Yampierre, Welai Grant and Jasmin Rowlett.NBC News

The lawsuits filed last year by Yampierre, Sgts. Jasmin Rowlett and Welai Grant and former Sgt. Tashawna Gaines come in the wake of the #MeToo and police reform movements that have increased awareness about sexual assault and harassment and police brutality against Black people, said Dionna Maria Lewis, an attorney who represents the four women.

“Now, we have law enforcement women stepping up and finally saying enough is enough,” she said. 

Image: Jasmin Rowlett
Jasmin Rowlett, a sergeant at the Baltimore Police Department.NBC News

The Baltimore Police Department declined to comment, saying in an email that officials are not permitted to talk publicly about pending litigation.

Such complaints aren’t limited to Baltimore. Female police officers in other big-city departments have alleged discrimination over the past year. Ten Black female officers in Washington, D.C., including the assistant police chief, filed a class-action lawsuit in the fall against the Metropolitan Police Department, alleging racial and gender-based discrimination. Since the first complaint was filed, other women have come forward with allegations against the MPD. 

In Boston, a federal jury awarded Lt. Detective Donna Gavin $2 million in November after her claims of gender discrimination within the Boston Police Department went to court. 

Image: Danika Yampierr
Danika Yampierre, a sergeant at the Baltimore Police Department.NBC News

The Metropolitan police said in a statement that while they "cannot discuss the specific allegations due to pending litigation,” they are “committed to treating all members fairly and equitably throughout our organization.” They added that they “take these allegations seriously and we will be reviewing them thoroughly and responding accordingly.”

Boston police did not respond to a request for comment.

Yampierre’s lawsuit, filed in May, alleges the city of Baltimore and its police department discriminated against her based on her race, gender and pregnancy-related disability. The three other women are claiming discrimination based on their race and gender. 

All of them reported instances of discrimination to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but speaking up backfired when they were subjected to hostile retaliation from their co-workers, according to the women. 

“People will stop talking to you,” Grant said. “There’s an island that they put you on. … You’re in isolation. I went through that. I’m going through that.

“That blue wall of silence … it’s real.”

Rowlett said in her lawsuit that she became “the snitch” in the eyes of her colleagues once she reported allegations of sexual harassment. In March, she began finding toy rats on her desk when she arrived at work, she said in the document, and now she’s “petrified” to perform her job because she’s afraid she won’t be protected by her colleagues. 

Yampierre continues to report to the Baltimore Police Department as her battle against her workplace churns through the legal system. Although she has over a decade of experience as a sergeant, she said she feels powerless.

“We all love our job as police officers. That’s why we stayed,” she said. “But it’s not the people who we are protecting outside, in the city, that we’re scared of. We’re scared of the people inside. That’s the problem.”