Philadelphia police commissioner steps down after harassment, discrimination lawsuit and alleged affair with officer

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Philadelphia’s police commissioner is stepping down after a new lawsuit alleged sexual harassment and discrimination in the city’s police department, as well as accused him of having an affair with an officer for two years.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross submitted his resignation to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney Tuesday after two female employees of the police department, Cpl. Audra McCowan and Officer Jennifer Allen, filed a federal lawsuit against the department Monday.

“New allegations of sexual harassment as well as gender and racial discrimination among the rank and file have recently been brought to my attention. While those allegations do not accuse Commissioner Ross of harassment, I do ultimately believe his resignation is in the best interest of the Department,” Kenney said in a statement Tuesday.

{mosads} The suit alleges that both women were “grabbed and groped” by multiple other officers, and some tried to kiss the female employees.

The lawsuit also alleged that officers verbally harassed the women, with one officer accused of telling McCowan “you’re giving me action in my pants” and telling her to “bend over like that again,” as well as other sexual comments directed towards the women over multiple years.  

Officers also reportedly told the women that they were romantically interested in them, and an officer allegedly tried to forcibly remove McCowan’s wedding rings. Both officers are married.  

The women also allege discrimination based on their sex and race. Both identify as female and are black, and they state in the lawsuit that they were passed over for professional opportunities that were given to their “male and white female counterparts.” 

McCowan alleges that she was left out of meetings and left off of important emails when she was promoted to a supervisory position. Allen alleges that the breastmilk she pumped at work was tampered with by other officers, and she was also ridiculed for needing space to pump.

McCowan also alleges that she tried to bring the accusations to Ross, but he did not take them seriously because she says the two had an affair between 2009 and 2011. Ross “declined to act on her report, and instead suggested, ‘So why don’t you just order his dumb ass to go sit down and get out of your face,’” according to the lawsuit. He also allegedly said he was going to “school” McCowen on sexual harassment. 

The suit also alleges that another department employee told McCowan, “You worked in the building long enough to know how it works. Once you’re out of the clique they ostracize you. Between you and me, this is all coming from Commissioner Ross, who said he was mad because he thinks you’re making this all up.”

The Philadelphia city government implemented “a new sexual harassment prevention policy and a series of internal reforms designed to prevent workplace discrimination and harassment throughout the government,” according to Kenney’s Tuesday statement.

The mayor announced that he will be hiring an independent firm to investigate the allegations and make “recommendations to overcome some of the discrimination and harassment” within the department.

“While rolling out a new policy understandably takes time, I do not believe the Police Department has taken the necessary actions to address the underlying cultural issues that too often negatively impact women—especially women of color,” Kenney said. 

The suit follows Ross’s announcement last month that the police department intends to dismiss 13 officers over a series of racist posts and comments shared on Facebook.

Tags Philadelphia Philadelphia Philadelphia police Sexual harassment

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