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Mar 25, 2015 12:10 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Female Southampton Town Police Sergeant Promoted A Month After Filing Sexual Discrimination Lawsuit

Mar 25, 2015 12:10 PM

Southampton Town Police Sergeant Susan Ralph on Tuesday became the first female officer on the force to earn the rank of lieutenant—just a month after suing the town and police department, accusing her male superiors of sexual discrimination.

Sgt. Ralph’s attorney, Peter Famighetti, noted this week that his client’s promotion will not result in the withdrawal of the lawsuit that was filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip on February 13. It names both Town Police Chief Robert Pearce and Lieutenant James Kiernan as defendants, and alleges that she has been retaliated against for speaking with internal affairs officers and district attorneys as part of an 2012 investigation of the department.

“We still think she should have been promoted years ago,” Mr. Famighetti said. “The lawsuit will still go forward at this point.”

Sgt. Ralph, who declined to discuss her lawsuit when reached on Monday, joined the force in 2002. “I am so excited,” she said. “It’s thrilling. I’m proud and happy. I work with a fine organization and a great group of police officers. I hope I can have a positive influence.”

The promotion was approved Tuesday evening by the Southampton Town Board and does not take effect until April 1.

Chief Pearce, who attended Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony, did not immediately return calls inquiring about the timing of Sgt. Ralph’s promotion.

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said Wednesday that the lawsuit had no bearing on the board’s decision to promote Sgt. Ralph. “The three people that we chose from are the three that we could choose from,” she said. “We picked the two … that we thought would be the best choice.”

Sergeant Todd Spencer, who has been on the police force since 1997, was also promoted to the rank of lieutenant on Tuesday.

“Lt. Ralph and Lt. Spencer are dedicated professionals who lead by example, and I am confident they will answer the challenge of their new position as lieutenant with the Southampton Town Police Department,” Chief Pearce said at the ceremony.

Sgt. Ralph and Sgt. Spencer, who will also assume his new rank on April 1, will be the third and fourth lieutenants, respectively, in the department, which boasts about 90 officers. They will join both Lt. Kiernan and Lieutenant Michael Zarro.

Also on Tuesday, the town promoted two police officers, Frederick Boese and Joseph D’Arce, to the rank of sergeant. Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer also swore in three of the town’s five newest police officers, David Banks Jr., Christopher Manzello and Johnathan Parsons.

In her lawsuit, Sgt. Ralph alleges that both Chief Pearce and Lt. Kiernan orchestrated a campaign of retaliation against her for assisting Suffolk County Police Department internal affairs investigators, and attorneys with the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, with an investigation that focused on the department’s now-disbanded undercover drug enforcement unit, known as the Street Crime Unit, which was headed by Lt. Kiernan.

Lt. Kiernan was suspended for six months in 2012 as a result of that investigation, which was prompted after then-Chief William Wilson Jr. filed a battery of charges against the lieutenant. The Town Board ultimately reinstated Lt. Kiernan and, a week later, Chief Wilson retired from the force after only 18 months as chief. He was replaced by Chief Pearce.

Sgt. Ralph’s lawsuit contends that both Chief Pearce and Lt. Kiernan treated her unfairly after she filed multiple sexual discrimination complaints with the state employment commission and spoke to Suffolk County investigators about Lt. Kiernan during an investigation into his management of the department’s undercover drug enforcement unit in 2012.

According to the complaint, Sgt. Ralph told internal affairs investigators that Lt. Kiernan was dishonest with regard to the handling of an undercover officer, Eric Sickles, who was allowed to continue working drug cases after it was discovered that he was addicted to prescription pain medication. The suit also charges that Sgt. Ralph told internal affairs officers that she did not trust Lt. Kiernan and was critical of town’s Street Crime Unit.

After Lt. Kiernan’s reinstatement, Sgt. Ralph, according to her suit, was removed from departmental email lists, excluded from training programs and relocated to a smaller office away from other supervisory officers. Also, she complained that her computer’s USB drive had been removed without explanation.

Both the town and its police department also are being sued by Detective Sergeant Lisa Costa, the head of the department’s detectives division and the only other female superior officer on the force. That lawsuit, which was filed last April, alleges a pattern of discrimination and sexual harassment throughout her career.

Det. Sgt. Costa did not return calls or an email this week seeking comment.

Both lawsuits and complaints filed with state employment commissions accuse several former officers of inappropriate behavior and comments toward female police officers. Both lawsuits also contend that former Town Police Chief James Overton made unwanted sexual advances toward both of them on multiple occasions.

But, at least on Tuesday evening at Southampton Town Hall, all of those accusations and underlying tensions were pushed aside—if only for a few minutes—as Sgt. Ralph accepted her promotion.

“We’re so fortunate that we’re able to … increase our supervisory personnel with such a great slate of candidates,” Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said. “And we’re very fortunate that one of the candidates that rose to the top this year was a woman. I wish you all the best and congratulations.”

As for Sgt. Ralph, she said that she is most proud of her role in starting the East End Veterans Court and Town Police Explorers programs.

The East End Veterans Court was launched in November 2013 and focuses on rehabilitation, not punishment, when it comes to those who served who are in trouble with the law. Sgt. Ralph said because of her late father, Albert, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War, she has a bit of a soft spot for veterans.

“It’s a good feeling, knowing you have a positive influence on people, especially for those who have served the country,” Sgt. Ralph said, noting that she credits her father for her tenacity and strength.

As for the Police Explorers, which is still in its first year, Sgt. Ralph said she wasn’t sure who was having more fun: the officer instructors or the adolescent recruits. The Police Explorer program gives those between ages 14 and 20 the opportunity to shadow police officers and go through basic training to learn about each department.

“I think it’s important for kids to see another side of law enforcement,” she said, explaining that the next closest explorer program is run by Suffolk County Police’s Seventh Precinct in Shirley. “It’s a way for them to experience the job, see it and work with us.”

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The American way. If you want it, sue for it. The Southampton Town Politics Department.
By Mouthampton (439), Southampton on Mar 26, 15 12:00 PM
Horrible! She gets a promotion because she sues the department. What happened to earning the promition ?
By lifesaver (118), speonk on Mar 26, 15 11:55 PM
This woman has whined her way to the top. She has held several different positions in the department that others never had a chance to- all from complaining.
By whp (21), East Quogue on Mar 27, 15 3:43 PM
"That's not a woman. That's a man.....man."

Austin powers
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Mar 27, 15 10:25 PM
I have never heard one exceptional thing this officer has done. Anyone can pass a test. I guess when you work in the building your whole career you make friends.
By guest (68), Bridgehampton on Mar 31, 15 9:48 AM