Pornography Can Be Basis For Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

Theresa Brooks was assigned to the Narcotics Strike Force of the Philadelphia Police Department. According to Brooks, the environment within the operations room at the Strike Force was overly hostile towards female employees. Brooks testified that her male colleagues would watch pornographic films on the television set in the operations room at the Strike Force and would laugh at her while showing the films. Brooks testified that the operations room was a “locker room” of sorts where Brooks was subjected to her male colleagues changing clothes in front of her while she worked. In addition, Brooks testified that her male colleagues would refer to her as “bitch” and “crazy bitch,” and that on one occasion her commanding officer said, in reference to Brooks, “Bring that bitch in here. I’m going to punch her in her fucking mouth.”

Brooks claimed that her immediate superior, Sgt. Anthony Burton, would remove her as the arresting officer so as to credit a male colleague with the arrest. Burton failed on occasion to report Brooks’ earned overtime so that she would be paid for that overtime. Eventually, Brooks reported Burton to Internal Affairs alleging corruption with regard to theft of money from suspected drug dealers.

Brooks claimed that Burton made it clear that he knew she reported him to Internal Affairs and that he vowed vengeance. Thereafter, a verbal altercation between Brooks and Burton occurred, with the result that Brooks was placed on administrative leave and was required to relinquish her police-issued firearm. Brooks responded by bringing a sexual harassment claim in federal court.

Rejecting the City’s motion for summary judgment, the Court found that Brooks’ allegations were sufficient to raise an issue for a jury to decide. The Court held that “Brooks testified regarding the pervasive presence of pornography within the workplace, the fact that she in particular was subjected to derogatory and insulting language from her colleagues, and the male locker room atmosphere that comprised her main work area. Any one of these circumstances alone, and certainly all taken together, are sufficient to establish that Brooks suffered a hostile work environment on account of her gender.

“The City counters that even assuming these events to be true, it did not affect Brooks’ work and therefore should not be considered to constitute a hostile work environment. The fact that Brooks persevered in her job does not mean that she was not detrimentally affected by the work environment. Moreover, it is hard to see how any woman would not have been detrimentally affected by this environment. We are satisfied that there are genuine issues of material fact as to the nature and effect of this work environment.”

Brooks v. City of Philadelphia, 2015 WL 505405 (E.D. Pa. 2015).