Inside the Sex-Discrimination Lawsuit Against a Colorado Police Department

Judging by the number of sexual-discrimination complaints put forward by female law enforcement employees of late, the question of whether such Colorado agencies offer a level playing field remains open.

Examples include lawsuits from 2015 and 2016 filed by a total of twelve female deputies with the Denver Sheriff Department; the documents allege that the Denver County Jail is a house of horrors for women guards. And last month, former Denver-based FBI agent Danielle Marks sued FBI director James Comey based on claims that she was subjected to both discrimination and sexual harassment at the organization.

In the meantime, Corporal Brandee Compton is suing the Pueblo Police Department on two fronts. She maintains that the PPD promoted men over her, even though she had superior test scores, as retaliation for her previously filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the deputy chief — who just happened to be on the committee charged with interviewing candidates. She also asserts that she was discriminated against in terms of work duties after being injured on the job. The lawsuit is on view below.

The Pueblo Police Department offered no comment on the suit because it's still pending. That leaves Rosemary Orsini, Compton's attorney, to lay out the basic facts of the case against the backdrop of what she sees as a historical lack of opportunities for women at the PPD.

"The department has approximately 200 police officers, and around 10 percent are female," Orsini says. "There are also 21 supervisory positions, and only one is held by a female."

Compton filed her EEOC complaint against the deputy chief, Michael Bennett, in 2005, and Orsini notes that "it was resolved. Then, in 2014 and 2015, she applied for promotion, and she did very well on the written test," ranking second among the candidates for four open sergeant positions. But while the male candidate who ranked first and a second man whose score tied with Compton's were both promoted, she was not, despite having been assured that Bennett had "learned his lesson" and would consider her application fairly, the lawsuit states.

Granted, one of the other sergeant slots was given to a woman — Shelly Taylor, wife of SWAT commander Charley Taylor. She ranked fifth among the candidates but somehow managed to best Compton, who also fell short when another sergeant post came open in August 2015. This time around, she ranked first among applicants, but a man was promoted instead of her.

This wasn't the only challenge Compton was facing.

"She received an injury in the course of her duties, as she was chasing and apprehending a fleeing suspect," Orsini points out. "She injured her hip and her knee, and when knee surgery didn't take care of the pain she was suffering, she underwent two hip surgeries — and the second one was much more extensive. They actually had to insert a cadaver labrum in place of the damaged tissue."

When Compton returned to work in January 2015, Orisini says, "she was put on light duty with physical restrictions — but she was treated differently from the male officers working on light duty."

Her supervisor? Sergeant Shelly Taylor.

"Sergeant Taylor set unrealistic goals and would harass Ms. Compton about where she was during the work day, even when she was providing that information," Orsini continues. For instance, "Ms. Compton would provide a list of her medical appointments, and Sergeant Taylor would call her on her personal cell phone, which was not supposed to happen."

Now, Orsini maintains, "they have not allowed Ms. Compton to continue to work light duty as an accommodation for her disability, even though we believe they have allowed males to work extended light duty. But they did provide her with the ability to take a leave."

Unfortunately, that leave, which has been in effect since June 2015, is unpaid.

Among the matters disputed by the Pueblo Police Department is whether Compton could manage to fulfill all the duties of a sergeant given the current state of her health; she believes she can, but PPD attorneys say that wouldn't be possible, since sergeants also sometimes work patrol positions that might be difficult for her.

Orsini is reluctant to cite Compton's situation as an example of broader sexual discrimination in law enforcement. Yet she reveals that "this is not the first case that I have filed against the City of Pueblo based on sexual discrimination. I also have a pending matter at the EEOC on behalf of another claimant against the police department."

Such complaints are becoming less uncommon by the day. Here's a look at the aforementioned lawsuit.

Brandee Compton Complaint

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts