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NYC Coughs Up $300K To Settle Gay Cop Sex Harassment Case

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Jul 15, 2010

A claim of on-the-job sexual harassment has netted two police officers $300,000. The purported harasser: an openly gay male colleague in the New York Police Department.

The alleged harassment took place in 2005. A department trial conduced in 2008 found Lt. Kieran Crowe guilty of sexually harassing Sgt. Dominic Coppola and Sgt. Sean Gallagher, who had filed a complaint alleging that Crowe had made sexually explicit gestures with his hands and his tongue at the male officers. One of the manual gestures the officers complained about was Crowe allegedly rubbing his crotch in front of them.

Crowe testified that if he had rubbed his crotch, it was due to "medical conditions." Testimony from a dermatologist confirmed that Crowe had suffered from jock itch.

However, that defense did not convince John Grappone, who served as the trial commissioner in the case. The trial ended with a guilty verdict for Crowe and an opinion stating that a body rash did not excuse conduct of the sort about which the officers had complained, including "extensive staring at crotches, masturbation gestures, tongue gestures and sighing sounds."

As to other gestures, Crowe said that miming of masturbation may have occurred while he was engaged in a telephone conversation and felt that he was being "jerked around."

Crowe's sentence was a two-month suspension and a year of probation during which any infraction would have resulted in his firing. Crowe retired right after the trial, stating, "I vehemently deny these charges and I'm confident that my name will be cleared."

Gallagher and Coppola pursued a civil suit, and were rewarded with a sum total of $300,000 by the city, according to a July 13 article in the New York Daily News. Gallagher was awarded $125,000, while $175,000 went to Coppola, the article said.

"He paid nothing, he did nothing, he admitted nothing," Rae Koshetz, Crowe's attorney, told The New York Daily News, adding, "If the city wants to pay these people, that's their choice."

Eric Sanders, the lawyer for Gallagher and Coppola, said that the case was "further proof that the once-silent issue of same-sex harassment is on the rise." Indeed, it does appear that more men are coming forward to report instances of sexual harassment by male colleagues; a March 4 Associated Press article related that over a 19-year period, from 1990 through 2009, men filing sexual harassment claims rose from 8% of all such claims to 16%, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said. Some of those claims said that female colleagues were the harassers, but most identified the perpetrators as male.

The article recounted a claim made by six male Arizona employees of chain restaurant The Cheesecake Factory, who said they had been sexually groped and subjected to "simulated rape" by male co-workers. The company shelled out $345,000 to the half-dozen plaintiffs.

In some cases, according to consultant Susan Strauss, the harassment is meant as a form of hazing and targets victims who are not seen as "masculine" enough. "If you don't fit the masculine stereotype or are viewed as effeminate, you get picked on in a sexual way to demean you," Strauss told the AP.

EEOC lawyer Ernest Haffner told the AP that, "It's certainly possible that there's more sexual harassment of men going on, but it could just be that more men are coming forward and complaining about it."

The article noted that claims of male-on-male sexual harassment had risen following a ruling from the Supreme Court in 1998 that men were also protected by federal laws barring such behavior.

For men who gay--or who are perceived to be gay--workplace harassment can take other forms, as well. Officer Sean Lathrop was seen as a "golden boy" while a rookie on the police force of St. Cloud, Minnesota, his attorney said, until Lathrop's superiors realized that the young man was gay. Once Lathrop's sexuality came to the attention of his colleagues, however, Lathrop was systematically discriminated against by his superiors, a federal lawsuit alleged.

Among other things, Lathrop was told that no gay people live in St. Cloud--which is a suburban community outside of the "Twin Cities" of Minneapolis-St. Paul--and denied permission to attend a Pride event either in uniform or as a private citizen. Lathrop's suit also alleges that he was subjected to baseless disciplinary proceedings.

Next: Anti-Gay Cops and Identical Twins



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