LAPD officer is suing the department, alleging supervisors ignored sexual harassment
A Los Angeles police sergeant has sued the city, alleging she was targeted in an online harassment campaign because she reported her colleagues for sharing sexist memes. The suit also alleges that her supervisors tried to suspend and demote her after she complained.
Sgt. Darcy French, who joined the LAPD in 1998, said she reported the conduct to her higher-ups in late summer 2020, hoping they would intervene after she became the subject of degrading and humiliating social media posts — presumably from other officers.
Instead, her lawsuit alleges, the complaint was ignored for months, and then her superiors “orchestrated a series of actions plainly” meant to discredit and retaliate against her for reporting the abuse.
In the suit, filed last month in Los Angeles County Superior Court, French alleged that the retaliation didn’t end there. She said she was passed over for lieutenant on three occasions between February and July 2022. During that time, she contends, she was forced to administratively transfer out of Southeast Division, was twice threatened with suspension and then was marked for demotion from the rank of sergeant II to police officer III.
The lawsuit alleges that department leadership contributed to a hostile work environment by failing “to take prompt and adequate remedial action to stop the offensive social media posts or to hold the offending employees responsible.”
When reached Thursday, French's attorney, Leila Al Faiz, declined to comment. The Los Angeles city attorney's office said it couldn't discuss pending litigation.
Shortly after the harassment started, French said she tried taking her concerns to her captain, Clinton Dohmen. But the suit alleges that instead of helping French, Dohmen began avoiding her. He repeatedly canceled or refused meetings with her and took away some of her duties without justification.
He then proceeded to “unfairly" counsel her "for purportedly being mean, hostile, and unprofessional based on unspecified and unsupported criticisms by unidentified officers who were more likely than not simply disgruntled because plaintiff reported the memes,” the lawsuit said.
The hyper-sexualized posts reportedly began sometime in July 2020, after French became aware of a sexist meme being shared by some Southeast Division officers on her shift. The meme seemed to mock a gang unit cop who had stopped a Southeast officer from using a baton on a suspect.
French alleges that the meme depicted the baton as a tampon, and the caption read something along the lines of "this is what [the gang unit] brings to a UOF," using an initialism for a use-of-force incident.
The meme, the suit says, compared the unidentified gang officer’s actions to the feminine hygiene product "to signify weakness by appealing to negative gender stereotypes."
French says she admonished the officers under her command during a roll call, warning them that the posting or sharing of such memes could lead to discipline.
Shortly thereafter, she became aware of another "derogatory" meme going around that featured a Hello Kitty image accompanied by a captain suggesting that the gang unit had gone "crying" to the watch commander of third watch, French's position.
French said she continued to raise the issue at subsequent roll calls; as she did, the memes began to target her specifically and grew more vulgar.
The online abuse lasted from about July 2020 to June 2021, the lawsuit alleges.
“Numerous posts or memes made use of negative gender stereotypes, such as depicting plaintiff as a bird or as a pouting child, contained offensive, demeaning, threatening, and sexualized references to plaintiff, and depicted violence against plaintiff,” the suit said.
The posts were made on the social media account @chippies_comedy, according to the suit, and “several memes or posts targeted other female department employees because of their sex or gender.”
One such post made a reference to gang rape, the suit alleged, referencing French's position and the LAPD's Metropolitan Division.
"Plaintiff saw these and other offensive social media posts and learned they were widely viewed, shared, and discussed by LAPD employees throughout the department,” the suit alleged. “Plaintiff was humiliated, offended, and threatened by this harassing conduct targeting her and other female department employees."
French said she lodged a harassment complaint in July 2020 but wasn't interviewed by department officials until five months later.
"Yet despite learning of the foregoing misconduct explicitly targeting [French], LAPD leadership did not take prompt and appropriate corrective action to stop and remedy the harassment she endured,” the suit read.
The suit alleges that "no appropriate discipline was imposed for these egregious acts."
The following March, she shared her complaints of the department's "failure to condemn and remedy the derogatory and demeaning" online posts in a letter to the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Assn., the suit says. The letter came to the attention of department leadership and to the Professional Standards Bureau, it says.
She eventually transferred out of Southeast, where she had spent the previous five years, unable to bear the ongoing harassment.
Instead of taking her concerns seriously and investigating the matter, French alleges that department leadership retaliated against her by "initiating several frivolous complaints." In 2022, department leadership twice recommended suspending her for five days for allegations made against her for past conduct, and also wanted to demote her.
The lawsuit said the department took away most of her duties in May, leaving her little to do since then.
She filed a whistleblower claim against the city in August.
Over the years, the department has been dogged by allegations made by female officers describing a crude, sexist culture within its ranks.
In one of the biggest scandals to rock the department recently, LAPD Capt. Lillian Carranza sued the department after other officers began circulating a photo of a nude woman that some falsely claimed was her. Last year, a jury awarded Carranza $4 million in damages.
Jurors in the Carranza case also found that the LAPD failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action to address the hostile environment as required by state law. Another female LAPD detective, Tina Rios, settled her sexual harassment lawsuit against the city in February.
On Friday, a jury awarded LAPD Capt. Stacey Vince $10.1 million in damages after she alleged she was retaliated and discriminated against after she complained about the conduct of Deputy Chief Kris Pitcher. At the time, she was warned that her career would be adversely affected if she spoke out against Pitcher, her lawsuit alleged.
When Pitcher became Vince's supervisor in 2019, he proceeded to shun her, had her transferred out of the detective bureau and eventually reassigned her to a less coveted position, she alleged. Pitcher had previously served as a supervisor for Vince's husband, Lou, who himself won a $4.3-million settlement after suing the department for retaliation.
"When it comes to internal organization they will do what they want, to who they want, how they want," said Vince's attorney, Matthew McNicholas, who said he is representing more than 60 LAPD officers who have filed claims or lawsuits against the department.
UCLA researchers are looking at the treatment of women across city departments, including the LAPD, as part of a broader study that is expected to be released this year.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.