SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The South Bend Police Department illegally retaliated against a female officer who accused a male supervisor of sexual harassment for suggesting she could wear a miniskirt and high heels to a meeting, a federal jury found.
The jury on Thursday awarded former South Bend officer Joy Phillips $35,000 in damages for distress, pain and suffering.
Philipps accused the department of targeting her with a series of internal investigations and disciplinary actions after she filed a sexual harassment complaint in October 2014 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over the supervisor’s alleged comments.
Her attorney, Dan Pfeifer, told jurors in his closing arguments that the department was “out to get her,” The South Bend Tribune reported.
“They were going to drive her out of the police force,” he told the court.
Evidence offered at trial showed that Phillips, who joined the department in 1999, was disciplined five times in her first 15 years on the job. After 2014, she was investigated a dozen times and recommended for discipline in six cases.
She sued the department in November of 2015.
Four months later, Chief Scott Ruszkowski accused Phillips of policy violations in five separate cases and recommended her for unpaid suspensions totaling more than 50 days. He also placed her on a form of administrative leave that allowed her to collect her base salary but banned her from police duties.
Michael Hays, the lead attorney for the city, declined to comment Friday on the jury’s decision.
During his closing arguments, he said any discipline against Phillips was meant only to hold her accountable for what he called clear policy violations.
“You don’t get a free pass on policy just because you made some unrelated complaints,” Hays told jurors.
Phillips resigned last July to take a job with the Elkhart Police Department. She’s now a detective in that city about 10 miles east of South Bend.
Aside from the $35,000 in damages, the city of South Bend will likely have to pay Phillips’ legal fees and lost wages for the months during which she was stripped of police powers and unable to work overtime or security jobs.
The judge will set a conference to determine the wages and legal fees she is owed.
Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com