A former Suffolk County, N.Y., police officer who said he was subjected to death threats and harassment because he is bisexual was awarded $270,000 on Friday by a federal jury, his lawyer said.
John Weeks, a 10-year veteran of the department from East Islip, claimed in a lawsuit, filed in U.S. district court in Central Islip, that he had been harassed and discriminated against based on his sexual orientation. "The Suffolk County police department turned a blind eye when superior officers violated Officer Weeks's constitutionally protected rights," said attorney Rick Ostrove.
The police department said it was preparing comments to be released later Friday.
Ostrove said the harassment, which began in 1999 when internal affairs officers found links to gay Web sites on his client's home computer, included a message left on a bathroom wall that said "Weeks will die like Matthew Shepard." Shepard was the Laramie, Wyo., gay man who died in 1998 after being beaten and tied to a fence. Other offenses included hanging "antigay and sometimes pornographic depictions throughout the precinct," Ostrove said.
Weeks, who was fired in October 2002, said in a statement that he was "gratified that the jury has sent a clear message that discriminatory behavior in the workplace, particularly by a police department, will not be tolerated." Although Weeks had sought $10 million in his lawsuit and only received $270,000, his attorney said the verdict still represents a victory. "We're just very pleased," Ostrove said. "The jury found that he was subjected to a hostile work environment."
The attorney said that although Weeks is appealing his firing through his union, he is continuing his education and is working toward becoming an accountant.
This is the second time in a year that the Suffolk County police department has lost a federal bias lawsuit. Last May, Officer Felicia Collins was awarded $229,500 in damages after winning a civil rights lawsuit in which she claimed to be the victim of a campaign of harassment. She said she was denied advancement because she is a black woman and that the abuse she suffered came from both her
peers and supervisors. Ostrove was also the lawyer in that case. (AP)
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