Less than a week after Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney pronounced him the “the best police commissioner in America,” and a day after a female corporal filed a lawsuit claiming he had ignored her sexual harassment complaint against another officer “in retribution” for breaking off their two-year affair, Police Commissioner Richard Ross suddenly resigned from his post Tuesday, stunning the city’s criminal justice and political establishment.
Mentioning Ross’ alleged failure to act, the 104-page federal lawsuit filed by Cpl. Audra McCowan — the woman who alleged the affair — and Patrol Officer Jennifer Allen claims both women faced years of sexual harassment at the Philadelphia Police Department, and were penalized when they complained.
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The lawsuit originally was filed in late July, but an amended version filed Tuesday references the alleged affair between McCowan and Ross from 2009 to 2011.
On Wednesday, Ross told reporters that he has “never sought retribution on a person, personally or professionally,” and that although the lawsuit was the "catalyst” behind his departure, 14 years in an administrative role "can wear you down a little bit.”
Here are the allegations from the complaint filed against Ross and 10 other Philadelphia Police Department officials.
Both McCowan and Allen say they were verbally and physically sexually harassed for years by coworkers who made jokes about their appearance, made unwanted advances, and denied them promotions granted to less-experienced officers — part of the department’s widespread and “well-settled custom of sexual harassment,” according to the lawsuit.
Allen, an officer with the department for more than 15 years, alleges she was grabbed and groped twice by a sergeant while serving a warrant, and again by an officer who slapped her rear end on his last day of work.
McCowan, also with the department more than 15 years, claims that another officer told her, “You’re giving me action in my pants,” and tried to kiss her and slap her behind. When she filed a complaint, investigators declined to discipline the officer, and McCowan was forced to continue working with him, the lawsuit says.
Both Allen and McCowan also claim they faced similar escalating sexual advances from Officer Curtis Younger, who allegedly called both women at separate times under the guise of work matters to say, “I have a crush on you.”
In an office prayer circle, Allen alleged, Younger placed his hands around her waist, commenting, “You’re so small,” as he picked her up off the ground.
Younger also continued an unwelcome pursuit of McCowan at work, making comments such as, “Damn, you sexy,” and sexually suggestive sounds — some while in the presence of supervisors, the suit claims.
The suit lists one instance when Younger asked McCowan, “Do I have any chance with you?” and another in which he told her, “I have some meatballs for you.”
At one point, after making comments about McCowan’s family photos and her relationship with her husband, Younger tried to “forcibly remove” her wedding ring, the lawsuit alleges.
Allen also alleges that when she returned to work following the birth of her child, colleagues harassed her and tampered with breast milk she stored in the department’s refrigerator.
Allen, who is black and Hispanic, says that when she reported the incident, her supervisor failed to act and instead made jokes about “wanting chocolate milk” or “needing milk.”
The lawsuit alleges Allen also was repeatedly shamed for pumping breast milk at work, and was met with opposition and harassment from coworkers whether she tried to go home or pump in various parts of the building.
After McCowan and Allen separately lodged complaints about their treatment at work, both say they were disparaged and transferred to lesser jobs.
The morning that police became aware of her lawsuit against the department, Allen, an officer on the Juvenile Enforcement Team working daytime weekday hours, was assigned to the “tow squad," working rotating day and nighttime hours with rotating days off.
Following her Internal Affairs interview, McCowan, a corporal with the Real Time Crime Center, was reassigned to work police radio, a job considered a “punishment” in the department, the lawsuit says. Her desk was moved to an unheated room where she wore a winter coat to keep warm, and since March she has not been given any work assignments, but rather “forced to sit, without work" for eight hours a day, according to the suit.
According to the lawsuit, McCowan texted and called Ross on his personal phone in February to inform him of the repeated sexual harassment at work and that she had been punished when she complained.
“So why don’t you just order his dumb ass to go sit down and get out of your face, officer?” Ross said, according to the suit, declining to act on the report.
It was during these conversations that Ross also allegedly stated he was going to “school” McCowan on sexual harassment, and “indicated that he continues to be upset with her and was getting in the way of redressing her complaints in retribution for her breaking off their two-year affair, which lasted from 2009 to 2011,” the lawsuit says.
“I have never, ever, gunned for anyone in my 55 years on this earth or my 30-year career,” Ross told The Inquirer on Wednesday. "That’s just the reality. And everyone who knows me knows that’s not my character.”
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In June 2019, McCowan requested a shift change after working at police radio dispatch for months, but the change was denied, the lawsuit says.
“You worked in the building long enough to know how it works,” Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 Vice President John McGrody allegedly told her. “Once you’re out of the clique they ostracize you. Between you and me, this is all coming from Commissioner Ross ... because he thinks you’re making all this up.”
Both women reported physical effects of the stress at work, and called in sick as the emotional distress and anxiety took its toll.
As the harassment over breast pumping at the department escalated in early 2019, Allen rapidly lost weight due to stress, the lawsuit says. Due to Allen’s low milk supply, her infant son also lost weight, and in March, doctors told her the 10-month-old was “underweight.”
Meanwhile, McCowan reported to her primary care doctor and the emergency room with pain that medical officials attributed to stress from her job.
The lawsuit is not the first to allege protection of officers accused of sexual harassment within the Philadelphia Police Department.
In June, Detective Lisa Salvato sued the department and Ross, alleging among other things that she faced retaliation and was almost hit by her supervisor’s car after filing her own harassment lawsuit against the department.
And in 2017, the city paid $1.25 million to settle a lawsuit by a female detective who claimed she’d been pervasively harassed and sexually assaulted by Chief Inspector Carl Holmes. It marked the second time Holmes had been accused of sexually assaulting a fellow Philadelphia cop.
Between 2011 and 2014, Philadelphia spent almost $200,000 settling lawsuits against Inspector Anthony Washington over allegations including civil rights violations and sexual harassment of several female officers. This year, Washington was appointed to oversee several units — including the Special Victims Unit, which in part investigates crimes involving sexual assault. In April, Ross defended Washington’s promotion, saying: “I am wholly confident in his ability to command the Homicide/Special Investigations Division.”