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Former RPD officer files discrimination suit

A former Russellville police officer has sued the City of Russellville alleging gender discrimination, the Franklin Free Press has learned.

Chelsea Gentry filed the lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama on September 6, 2016. The multi-count complaint is based on the allegation that Gentry, who was promoted and subsequently demoted from the position of sergeant, was discriminated against because she was a female and subjected to different standards as a sergeant because of her gender.

Russellville Police Chief Chris Hargett would not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit but did confirm Gentry submitted her resignation on Wednesday, March 8th.

Gentry was on the agenda for Monday's meeting of the Russellville City Council and addressed the council in executive session. According to a source familiar with the department, Gentry was told this week she could resign or be terminated with the grounds being failure to follow chain of command within the department.

According to documents filed with the federal court, Gentry filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on November 4, 2015. In that complaint, she alleged the following:

“I am female. I was hired by the above named employer on or about December 12, 2011, as a patrol officer. In or around August 2015, I was promoted to Sergeant. Chief Chris Hargett informed me that since I was getting promoted to a Sergeant they were going to do things different in the department. I was the only individual that expressed interest in the position. Chief Hargett gave me a one year probation term instead of the usual six months that are given to new Sergeants. The police department implemented a new training policy after I was demoted. I was the only female Sergeant in the police department. The male Sergeants were not held to the same standard. This policy was implemented approximately two months after I was selected for the position. On or about October 28, 2015, I was demoted. I believe I have been discriminated against because of my sex, female, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.”

After an investigation, the EEOC issued a “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” indicating that “based on its investigation, the EEOC is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes. This does not certify that the respondent is in compliance with the statutes. No finding is made as to any other issues that might be construed as having been raised by this charge.”

Essentially, the EEOC closed its file on the matter after being unable to find evidence that statutes were violated. This does not prohibit Gentry from filing a lawsuit, though, and that's what she did in federal court, based on Title VII.

The City of Russellville, through the law firm of Lanier, Ford, Shaver & Payne, P.C., of Huntsville, filed an answer denying each allegation of Gentry's complaint, including the specific affirmative defense that “Plaintiff's gender was not a substantial or motivating factor for any of the city's employment actions, practices or decisions.”

Gentry's specific allegations include being told by a fellow sergeant that “women have no place in law enforcement,” being subjected to a Field Training program for new sergeants that didn't exist before her promotion, and a claim she was not provided with a computer program designed for supervisors to view their officers' locations via GPS.

The city has denied each of those allegations as well.

The case has been assigned to United States District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala, whose scheduling order calls for the matter to be ready for trial by December of 2017.

Russellville City Attorney Danny McDowell, when reached for comment Thursday, issued a brief statement:

“Our policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, however, I can state affirmatively we feel very confident about the city's position in this matter,” McDowell said.

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