A Philadelphia police detective who said she endured years of sexual harassment and retaliation — including a near-miss from a supervisor’s car — alleges in a federal lawsuit that the Police Department “maintains a grossly sexist culture” that protects male cops who engage in inappropriate behavior.
Detective Lisa Salvato filed the lawsuit in June against the department and then-Commissioner Richard Ross, who abruptly resigned Tuesday amid questions about how he has handled harassment allegations.
Salvato says in the suit that the harassment and retaliation began in the Special Victims Unit in 2013, which led her to file a previous federal lawsuit. That suit alleged, among other things, that a lieutenant called her “spankasauras” and “gabbygail.” When she reported it to a captain, he allegedly responded, “I don’t deal with personal issues.”
The city settled that case in 2014 by, among other things, agreeing to transfer Salvato to the Major Crimes Unit.
“I know who you are and how you got here,” a captain told Salvato soon after she arrived, according to the June lawsuit.
The captain harassed her about the discrimination case, denied her any possibility of a promotion, and moved her desk to an isolated location, Salvato claims in the June complaint.
In November 2017, while she was walking into the building where she worked, a supervisor “sped up behind her in his car, forcing [Salvato] to jump out of the way of the speeding car,” according to the lawsuit.
She later was transferred to Southwest Detectives as retaliation, she claimed. She said it extended her commute to one hour and made it more difficult for her to care for a child who has serious disabilities.
In July 2018, Salvato filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Two weeks later, she was taken off a case she had been working on for nearly two years.
Salvato’s lawyer, Gregg Zeff, declined Wednesday to discuss what knowledge Ross may have had of the alleged harassment and retaliation. But Zeff said the accusations appear to be the type of behavior Mayor Jim Kenney cited Tuesday in announcing Ross’ resignation.
The commissioner’s resignation came amid news of another lawsuit, filed by two other women in the department, one of whom alleges he said he would block a probe of sexual harassment to retaliate for her having broken off a two-year affair in 2011.
“Based on what the mayor has said, it appears that Commissioner Ross is part of the problem,” Zeff said. “I applaud the mayor for recognizing that these are serious issues that appear to have been pervading the department for a long time.”
Kenney spokesperson Deana Gamble said the city’s Law Department typically "briefs the mayor on all significant matters of litigation,” but declined to say whether he was aware of Salvato’s recent lawsuit or to comment on the allegations. Ross, who became commissioner in January 2016, was named as a defendant but is not mentioned in the complaint.
Salvato, who was hired in 1995, is seeking at least $100,000, alleging unconstitutional policies, civil-rights violations, retaliation, and infringement on her First Amendment rights.