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Top-ranking female cop sues APD

Submitted by on 1, March 10, 2009 – 7:30 am2 Comments

Updated 8:58 a.m. Thursday, March 12

Alameda’s top-ranking female cop is suing the police department, claiming she was discriminated against due to her gender and sexual orientation and that department staff retaliated against her with investigations into her conduct when she complained.

The suit, which was filed February 19 in Alameda County Superior Court, seeks unspecified damages plus attorney’s fees and court costs.

“I commend Jill for coming forward because it was a very difficult thing to do and it could make more problems for her in the department,” Ottaviano’s lawyer, Alexis McKenna, said. And she said her client believes discrimination against women and minorities by the department is more widespread, though that is not alleged by the suit.

The department responded with a statement that said the city has reviewed the suit and believes that the allegations have no merit. It said the city has a policy prohibiting discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.  “The City continues to be committed to a workplace free of discrimination,” it said.

Sgt. Jill Ottaviano says in the suit that the problems began in 2005 after Mayor Beverly Johnson, who Ottaviano was meeting in preparation for her lieutenant’s exam, asked her about gender issues in the department. Ottaviano was subsequently investigated for “recruiting women officers for issues of fairness at the Alameda Police Department,” the suit says.

According to the suit, 11 of the department’s 99 officers are women.

In the suit, Ottaviano alleges that she was denied promotions and failed to receive assignments she requested, including an assignment for which she was the only applicant. When she complained, she found herself the subject of investigations for things male officers would have been investigated or disciplined as harshly for, the suit says.

The suit also accuses city officials of failing to act on Ottaviano’s discrimination complaints. It says Ottaviano sent an anonymous complaint letter to the city’s human resources director, Karen Willis, in March 2006 that was not investigated. She filed a formal complaint with the city’s human resources department in 2007 that was investigated, but it was dismissed as being without merit in May 2008.

And it says that others in the department made homophobic comments about or around Ottaviano, who is a lesbian.

Ottaviano was hired by the Alameda Police Department in January 1997 and sworn in as an officer that May. She has been a sergeant with the force since 2003.

The case number is RG09436728.


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