Lawsuit Accuses Philly Commissioner Of Ignoring Ex-Lover's Harassment Complaint
Philadelphia, PA – Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross resigned on Tuesday amidst allegations that he ignored sexual harassment and discrimination complaints from subordinates, including a woman with whom he had an affair for two years.
“New allegations of sexual harassment as well as gender and racial discrimination among the rank and file have recently been brought to my attention. While those allegations do not accuse Commissioner Ross of harassment, I do ultimately believe his resignation is in the best interest of the Department,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement.
However, Ross has been named in a federal lawsuit filed by 36-year-old Philadelphia Police Corporal Audra McCowan and 38-year-old Officer Jennifer Allen who claimed that the former commissioner knew about the problems they were having and did nothing about it, KYW reported.
The original lawsuit was filed in July but Ross was named in an amended suit that was filed on Monday and alleged that the police commissioner and 10 other officials were informed of the problem in January.
Newly appointed Interim Police Commissioner Christine Coulter, a chief inspector, four sergeants, an inspector, and a lieutenant are also named in the lawsuit, Billy Penn reported.
It was the amended lawsuit that revealed details of Cpl. McCowan’s illicit relationship with Ross that lasted from 2009 to 2011.
In the suit, Cpl. McCowan claimed that the failure by Ross to intervene on her behalf was in retribution for their failed love affair, Billy Penn reported.
When she initially complained to the commissioner about a lower ranking officer sexually harassing her, the lawsuit alleged that he responded by asking “So why don’t you just order his dumb a-- to go sit down and get out of your face?”
Cpl. McCowan, in the lawsuit, claimed she texted Ross about ongoing problems and he brushed her claims under the rug and promised to “school her on sexual harassment,” Billy Penn reported.
“Think about how you would feel if it was your daughter. Would it matter if it was someone that works for her or not? If she told the person to repeatedly stop, that doesn’t matter?” the corporal texted him back, according to KYW.
Cpl. McCowan claimed in the lawsuit that Ross implied he wouldn’t help her as retribution for ending their affair.
A prior complaint filed by the women with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner made the same allegations, Billy Penn reported.
Both plaintiffs have also alleged that Interim Commissioner Coulter knew of the women’s complaints and did nothing.
Cpl. McCowan is black and married to Philadelphia police sergeant and Officer Allen is Hispanic and married to another police officer on the department, according to Billy Penn.
The lawsuit said that both women “suffered continuous and ongoing” sexual harassment, including non-consensual groping, unwanted sexual advances, and harassment about breastfeeding in the workplace.
Officer Allen claimed that when she returned to work at the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center after having a baby, her breast milk was stolen out of the fridge in the cafeteria, KYW reported.
In the lawsuit, the officer claimed that she told a superior about the problem and he made jokes about “wanting chocolate milk.”
Ross gave his resignation to the mayor after the amended lawsuit was filed on Monday but initially, Kenney refused to accept it, KYW reported.
Later, after the announcement that Ross was leaving, the mayor’s spokeswoman, Deanna Gamble, said that the commissioner had “failed to act adequately after learning about the alleged harassment.”
Gamble said that Kenney didn’t know about the lawsuit until Monday, Billy Penn reported.
“The amended complaint was filed yesterday and that’s when the mayor was made aware of [the litigation],” she said.
Numerous officials are named in the lawsuit with detailed descriptions of their alleged inappropriate behavior.
Officer Allen claimed that a sergeant grabbed her butt twice in 2012, once on a staircase and another time after they’d finished serving a warrant together, Billy Penn reported.
Cpl. McCowan alleged that in 2015, an officer told her “you’re giving action in my pants” and asked her to “bend over like that again.”
She also complained that he tried to kiss her and touch her butt and she reported him to Internal Affairs, but nothing was done, Billy Penn reported.
Officer Allen said that another officer had made “unrelenting” and “inappropriate” sexual advances at her from 2014 through the present.
The lawsuit said that even Officer Allen’s husband had asked the officer to stop touching his wife but the harassment continued, Billy Penn reported.
The suit alleged that multiple supervisors were made aware of the problem and did nothing to intervene.
Both Cpl. McCowan and Officer Allen alleged in the lawsuit that that they had seen supervisors forging attendance records for the 2019 mandatory sexual harassment training that was ordered by the mayor, Billy Penn reported.
Although the mayor didn’t address any of the details of the complaint or even mention the lawsuit in the announcement about the commissioner’s resignation, Kenney did say that Ross had failed to “address the underlying cultural issues that too often negatively impact women — especially women of color” in the Philadelphia Police Department, KYW reported.