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Female NY cop files suit alleging gender discrimination, retaliation

Sgt. Lisa Costa claims she was passed over for promotions, denied time off and overtime pay, and dealt with lewd comments from male officers

By Will James

NEW YORK — A Southampton Town Police sergeant has sued the department, its chief and the town, alleging she faced "egregious and relentless" gender discrimination and then retaliation when she filed a complaint with state authorities.

Sgt. Lisa Costa claims in the suit, which was filed in Central Islip, that she was passed over for promotions, denied time off and overtime pay, and dealt with lewd comments from male officers. It also alleges Costa felt uncomfortable in late-night encounters with a former chief.

"Sergeant Costa's allegations are just another example of the above-the-law attitude exhibited by the hierarchy of the Southampton Police Department," her Great Neck-based attorneys, Michael Borrelli and Kelly Magnuson, said Tuesday in a statement.

Costa filed the lawsuit in federal court on Friday. It does not include the amount she is seeking in monetary damages.

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst did not return calls for comment Tuesday, and Southampton Town Police Chief Robert Pearce said that due to the litigation, he would refrain from comment.

Southampton Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato said Costa's accusations would be challenged. "We intend to defend each and every allegation presented in that suit," she said.

The lawsuit comes after Costa and another officer, Sgt. Susan Ralph, filed gender discrimination complaints in January 2013 with the New York State Division of Human Rights.

Costa joined the department in 1999 as a seasonal officer and rose steadily through the ranks, becoming a sergeant in 2006 and a detective sergeant in 2011, according to the suit.

After that, Costa "ran smack into the glass ceiling that the defendants implemented for female police officers," the suit states.

According to the lawsuit, only eight of the department's approximately 90 officers are women, and since the department's inception in 1951, no women have been promoted to lieutenant and only four have held the rank of sergeant.

In 2012, then-Chief William Wilson Jr. asked the town board to promote Costa to lieutenant five times, but the board never acted, according to the suit.

Before he resigned in November 2012, Wilson promoted Costa to "acting lieutenant." Pearce, who replaced Wilson, stripped Costa of her title after she filed the state complaint, denied her overtime pay after superstorm Sandy in October 2012, passed her over for promotions and ignored her requests for time off, according to the suit.

Wilson Tuesday expressed support for Costa, who he said "demonstrated outstanding abilities when she transitioned from patrol sergeant to detective sergeant."

Costa filed another complaint with the state in April 2013 alleging she was the subject of retaliation, according to the suit, which also describes several examples of alleged discrimination or harassment over Costa's 15 years with the department.

Copyright 2014 Newsday

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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