Failure To Provide Female Supervisors ‘Rank-Specific’ Locker Room Can Be Sexual Discrimination

Since at least 1980, the Boston Police Department has provided superior officers with locker rooms in the district stations that are separate from the locker rooms made available to patrol officers. Superior officers considered the separate locker facilities a tangible benefit of their rank, and both superior officers and patrol officers view the separation as useful so that disciplinary issues and other factors relating to rank do not affect the use of their respective spaces.

In April 2000, Geniveve King was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and assigned to District Station B-3 in Dorchester. That station had had a locker room for female superior officers, but when the last such officer left, the locker room was assigned to the drug control unit. King complained to her commanding officer and asked that the space be reverted to its originally designated purpose. While her complaint was being processed, King first used the male superior officers’ locker room, and then used the female patrol officers’ locker room. Later, she received access to a locked closet space within the female patrol officers’ locker room as a quasi superior officer locker room.

Eventually, the Department responded by considering a plan to eliminate all superior officer locker rooms, and to require all employees to use a rank-neutral locker room. This proposed policy ran into objections from the labor organizations for both patrol officers and superior officers, and was not implemented. King finally filed a federal court sex discrimination lawsuit alleging that the failure of her Department to provide female superior officers with rank-specific locker rooms similar to those provided to male superior officers constituted gender discrimination.

The Appeals Court of Massachusetts refused to dismiss the lawsuit, finding that a jury would have to resolve the issue of whether the failure to provide locker rooms was gender discrimination. The Court reasoned that “the question whether a condition or privilege of employment is sufficiently material to that employment to be the subject of an adverse employment action often cannot be answered in the abstract. Rather, the answer while turning on objective considerations, nonetheless is tied to the specifics of the employment situation. Here, King has presented evidence that the denial of a rank-specific locker facility deprives her of a material feature of employment. While such a finding may not be compelled, it would be permissible and thus precludes judgment for the City on this issue.

“There is evidence that the Department has provided rank-specific locker rooms for decades. Even while the events underlying this lawsuit took place, the Department opened three district stations that were constructed with separate male and female superior officer locker rooms. A jury could draw a reasonable inference that the Department believed for an extended period that such facilities were at least of some importance.”

King v. City of Boston, 883 N.E.3d 316 (Mass.App. 2008).

This article appears in the July 2008 issue