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Det. Sgt. Lisa Costa Sues Southampton Town Police Department

A Southampton Town Police Department sergeant has filed a federal lawsuit against her employer, the police chief and the town itself, alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination, and seeking monetary damages.

Detective Sergeant Lisa Costa alleges “nearly daily” harassment during her tenure with the police department, and says she hit a glass ceiling that has kept women from advancing past a certain point in the department ranks.

The lawsuit alleges Costa was retaliated against for her prior gender discrimination complaints made to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission and the New York State Division of Human Rights in January 2013. The lawsuit states that she was stripped of positions, denied overtime and denied permission to come back to work on “light duty” after surgery.

According to the complaint, the town employs approximately 90 police officers, of whom only eight are women. Since the police department was established in 1951, there has never been a female promoted to lieutenant or higher, the complaint states.

Costa alleges sexual harassment from both peers and superior officers and mistreatment while pregnant and while on maternity leave. She also states that she had responsibilities that are traditionally given to a lieutenant, though she was never promoted to lieutenant and never given “performance out of rank” pay as was owed her under union contract.

Costa worked as a Suffolk County Parks police officer from 1996 through 1999, when she joined the Southampton Town Police Department as a seasonal police officer. She became full-time the following year. She was promoted to detective in 2005 and then sergeant in 2006, becoming one of only four women to reach that rank ever in the department’s history. Under then-Chief William Wilson, Costa was named detective sergeant in July 2011. “And at that point Plaintiff ran smack into the glass ceiling that the Defendants implemented for female police officers,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit states Wilson recommended to the town board that Costa be promoted to lieutenant. The board requested to interview Costa before deciding on the promotion, though the board ultimately never interviewed her for the position nor did the board ever follow Wilson’s recommendation. According to the complaint, historically the town board never required interviews for lieutenant candidates and the board historically never rejected chief’s recommendations for lieutenants.

Later, when Costa was interviewed by a law firm hired by the town to supposedly conduct an internal investigation into a lieutenant, the attorneys instead subjected Costa to questions that implied she had an inappropriate relationship with Wilson, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that a male officer, recommended for the position of lieutenant by now-Chief Robert Pearce, was promoted immediately by the town board.

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