A gay female highway patrol officer in Ohio was awarded more than $2.6 million in damages and lost pay after a jury found she was discriminated against on the basis of her gender and sexual identity, according to a report in the Columbus Dispatch.
Stacey Yerkes sued the Ohio Highway Patrol (OHP) and four of her former coworkers alleging she was subjected to abuse and discrimination throughout her employment as a member of the OHP. Yerkes joined the OHP in 1994 and retired in 2018 rather than face further abuse and possible termination. The four individuals named in the suit were Lieutenant William Stidham, Captain Michael Kemmer, Major Gene Smith, and Scott Wyckhouse.
In her suit, Yerkes alleged the defendants “targeted and criticized her for minor infractions” that other male officers engaged in “without comment” such as leaving an official vehicle running and unoccupied while parked outside OHP headquarters. In another example cited in court documents, Yerkes said she was disciplined for being one minute late when male coworkers were as late as 26 minutes without discipline.
She also said she was told “There has only been one other female here before you, so try not to screw it up and make females look bad” shortly after she was hired, and that “Women are only promoted here because they are women, not because of merit” on another occasion.
When a coworker asked if she had engaged in sexual relations with a female coworker in a “back room” at a party, Yerkes claimed her supervisor responded by asking about her underwear rather than disciplining the coworker. She also claimed she was given “demeaning work” that was not in her job description and not assigned to her male coworkers.
The final straw came when Yerkes was disciplined for having a tattoo and not showing it when requested by a supervisor. Yerkes noted her male colleagues had tattoos in violation of department policy, but only she was disciplined.
Yerkes filed an internal OHP complaint that she claimed was never investigated, and subsequently filed a federal discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in January 2018. Three days later her supervisors began the disciplinary process for her tattoo.
The following month Yerkes retired rather than sign a last-chance disciplinary agreement that would have required her to withdraw her complaint. She filed suit in federal court the following year.
The suit went to trial on July 31 and lasted six days. The jury awarded her approximately $1.3 million in compensatory damages and $1.3 million in back and lost pay.
The OHP has denied all allegations in the lawsuit.