The former LGBT liaison for Atlanta police, forced out after she complained of anti-gay remarks aimed at her, filed a federal lawsuit against the agency seeking damages and reinstatement.
Darlene Harris, the second LGBT liaison for Atlanta police, was forced to take unpaid medical leave after suffering grand mal seizures in 2010. But the leave came days after she complained of anti-gay comments directed at her by an administrative assistant at the department. Her departure, and the agency's poor handling of it publicly, started a lengthy odyssey that left Harris' employment in limbo.
On Tuesday, she sued the city seeking a jury trial, back pay and lost benefits, reinstatement, damages and an injunction prohibiting Atlanta police from violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“[Atlanta police] retaliated against Plaintiff by, among other things, forcing her on unpaid medical leave, refusing to allow her the use of borrowed or loaned leave, repeatedly threatening to demote her to a civilian position and reduce her pay, refusing to reinstate her to her GLBT liaison position, and overall creating a retaliatory hostile working environment,” according to the lawsuit.
Harris said she faced anti-gay comments from Sandy Bradley, an administrative assistant at the department, on two occasions in 2010, according to the lawsuit.
Ms. Bradley said to Plaintiff, “Why you gay, I don’t understand?” “you confused,” “why can’t you settle in with a man and get the same feelings or emotions from a heterosexual relationship,” “I want to tell you something Harris, I really like you, but what I don’t like about you is that you walk around here like a fucking man without a dick.”
Ms. Bradley also told Plaintiff that “if she ever had kids at the APD she would not be comfortable having her kids around” Plaintiff.
The day after the second incident, April 14, 2010, Harris suffered another grand mal seizure. Two days after that, she complained to human resources about Bradley's comments and was soon forced to take medical leave. During her leave, the lawsuit alleges, Harris “required only one accommodation to perform the essential function of her job – she could not drive a patrol car with the lights flashing.”
Harris returned to work in October 2010, a few weeks after supporters rallied to help her financially. Harris served as the LGBT liaison for Atlanta police for nearly five years, from November 2005 to April 2010, and was a grand marshal at the Atlanta Pride parade in 2009.
But how the position was utilized came under fire after police raided the Eagle in September 2009. Harris was not notified of the raid and learned about it from a reporter. That later led a newly-appointed Chief George Turner to pledge to “tweak” how the LGBT liaison is involved in agency operations.
The department quietly put Harris on medical leave in April 2010 and appointed a replacement LGBT liaison without any public announcement, a move that the department only discussed when pressed by media outlets after a contentious anti-gay protest near Grady High School that Harris did not attend.
In May 2010 when Atlanta named a replacement for Harris, she said “APD is the one who is preventing me from going back to work. The medical leave was not by my choice or my doctor’s choice.”
Atlanta police maintained that Harris was unfit for duty and asked her to take a civilian job within the agency, which would result in a reduction in salary. In the lawsuit, Harris said she faced a “retaliatory hostile working environment” and alleged that the department's “failure to accommodate [Harris] are a pretext designed to cover up [the department's] retaliatory motive.”
Atlanta police declined to discuss the lawsuit with the AJC.