Police officer sues alleging years of harassment, discrimination

TRENTON - A veteran Trenton police officer has filed a lawsuit alleging years of harassment, jokes about her sexuality and retaliation when she brought complaints to supervisors. Sheila Tatarek, a 24-year officer, alleges that every time she spoke up, the...

Police officer sues alleging years of harassment, discrimination

TRENTON - A veteran Trenton police officer has filed a lawsuit alleging years of harassment, jokes about her sexuality and retaliation when she brought complaints to supervisors.

Sheila Tatarek, a 24-year officer, alleges that every time she spoke up, the discrimination got worse, according to the suit.

Tatarek filed the lawsuit in Superior Court in Mercer County naming the police department, Police Director Ernest Parrey Jr. and Sgt. John Breece.

Tatarek's complaints center on several internal affairs cases, some which she was involved in by filing actions, according to the suit. Behavior from fellow officers concerning those cases caused a hostile work environment, which was not properly addressed by police leaders, according to the suit. 

A Trenton police spokesman declined comment Thursday.

Though the problems have been ongoing for 20 years, they have gotten worse recently, especially following a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Tatarek's coworker, Officer Rosemarie Addar, the suit said.

Addar, previously a police aide, filed suit against Breece in 2014, alleging Breece made comments about her physical appearance, and other sexually harassing behavior.

Tatarek stood by Addar's claims provided a statement to the internal affairs unit supporting Addar, Tatarek's suit said.

The city settled the Addar suit in 2015 for $125,000.

Tatarek claimed that Breece and other officers continued to discriminate against her for supporting Addar and making the statement to internal affairs.

Tatarek went to Parrey with her complaints about Breece and other officers in January 2015, the suit said. She told the director that female officers, "were being sexually harassed and harassed in general by male police officers," according to the suit.

She also told Parrey she was concerned that some male officers wouldn't "back her up on the street," because they didn't like her, the suit said.

Trenton pays $725K to settle 2 police lawsuits

Parrey told Tatarek that police officers thought she disliked men and that she treated the male officers unfairly, the suit said.

The director then transferred Tatarek to a position in the police academy in the basement of police headquarters in August 2015, the suit said. The transfer meant that Tatarek lost the ability to get thousands of dollars in overtime and that she was isolated from the rest of the department, the suit said.

Tatarek has worked in patrol and as a detective, among other police jobs, she said in the suit

Though much of Tatarek's complaints were concerned with the backlash she allegedly received for supporting Addar's sexual harassment claims, the suit also detailed other instances of discrimination that Tatarek says she's endured throughout her career.

The claims stretch as far back as 1993, when Tatarek was a Trenton Police Academy recruit. A sergeant publicly outed her as a lesbian in front of her police academy classmates, the suit says. 

The suit also details several incidents that followed, including the same academy sergeant calling her a "man," others laughing about her sexuality and someone leaving a book in her mailbox called, "How to Make Love to a Woman," the suit said.

In addition to the backlash she faced following Addar's lawsuit, Tatarek claimed that her fellow officers treated her poorly on other occasions.

In the past few years, Tatarek reported a police officer for driving with a suspended license, another officer for getting into a crash on a side job, and urged the department to enforce a rule than bans smoking in police cars - which officers ignored, the suit said.

Each time she reported the offenses, officers treated her with hostility, the suit said.

She recalled one time in particular when someone in the department wrote "rat" above her name on a greeting card celebrating another officer's retirement, the suit said.

Anna Merriman may be reached at amerriman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @anna_merriman.

 

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