Updated Dec. 2
A former Tisbury Police sergeant says she was discriminated against by fellow police officers because she is a Hispanic gay woman, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Boston.
Kindia Roman named Tisbury Police Chief Mark Saloio, Tisbury Police Sgt. Max Sherman, and the town of Tisbury in the lawsuit, which alleges civil rights violations, sexual harassment, discrimination, interference with a business relationship, and conspiracy. The amount of damages sought is unspecified in the 16-page suit.
As The Times reported in July, Roman previously filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), where she alleged she was harassed at the Tisbury Police Department for being a Hispanic, gay woman. That complaint also alleges when she tried to leave Tisbury, Sherman poisoned a strong job prospect for her at the Walpole Police Department, and then played a role in preventing her from returning to her old job in Tisbury. The suit states Roman has withdrawn that MCAD complaint, but has incorporated its contents into the lawsuit. And it alleges that despite filing with MCAD, Roman was still subject to discrimination, and also to retaliation.
Roman declined comment for this story.
Sherman also declined comment, citing department policy about litigation.
Saloio didn’t respond to a voicemail seeking comment.
On Nov. 24, select board chair Jim Rogers told The Times he was unaware the suit had been filed, but that he understood one might be brewing. He reserved comment until he could confer with other town officials.
On Tuesday, town administrator JayGrande said “we have not been officially served that complaint.” He added, “I’ve been advised not to comment on pending litigation.”
The suit alleges Sherman and other officers called Roman former Tisbury Police Lt. Eerik Meisner’s “side chick” and “side piece,” falsely implying that she had an “inappropriate relationship with Lt. Meisner, and had only received her job due to her relationship with Lt. Meisner.” Meisner and Roman had both previously worked together in Florida, at the Titusville Police Department.
“On numerous occasions during her employment with the [Tisbury Police Department],” the suit alleges, “[Roman] was referred to by other officers as a ‘token’ officer, implying that she did not earn her accomplishments, and that she was only hired and promoted because she was a minority woman.”
“Several officers also referred to [Roman] as a ‘hot tamale,’ and used this derogatory term because they knew [Roman] was Hispanic,” the suit alleges. It further alleges, “Sherman’s animosity toward [Roman] was palpable. Sherman openly referred to women in general, including [Roman], by use of the word [expletive of female anatomy]. He also used the word ‘dyke’ when referring to [Roman] or her life partner.”
Similar to what the MCAD complaint outlined, the suit alleges that in a bid to exit a “hostile work environment,” Roman pursued a job at the Walpole Police Department where her pre-employment evaluation was positive — so positive, the suit alleges, that a Walpole deputy chief advised her she could “go ahead” and rent an apartment in a neighboring town.
“The Walpole Deputy Chief further stated that he would have appointed [Roman] at the most recent town hall meeting if it were not for the short notice,” the suit states. “The Deputy Chief projected [Roman’s] appointment to be mid-July 2018, following the next town hall meeting. Shortly thereafter, [Roman] put a deposit on an apartment in Norwood.”
On Roman’s last day at the Tisbury Police Department, the suit alleges, former Tisbury Police Chief Dan Hanavan told her she was leaving in “good standing,” and she would always have a job in Tisbury if she wanted to come back.
Roman subsequently moved into the Norwood apartment with her partner, Danielle Clermont. “Shortly thereafter, [Roman] received notification that the Walpole Police Department unexpectedly wanted to conduct a second interview of her,” the suit states.
At the second interview, the review panel “raised the issue of [Roman’s] relationship with Danielle Clermont, and questioned her judgment,” the suit states. “[Roman] was shocked by the panel’s questions regarding her personal relationship with Ms. Clermont.” Roman also learned during the second interview the Walpole Police Department had been “notified” she tried to usurp union leadership at the Tisbury Police Department. Roman allegedly told the panel Sherman’s union leadership was unpopular in the department at the time, and the union elected her to replace him.
“Because of [Sherman’s] animosity toward her, [Roman] asked the members of the panel if they had obtained this information from [Sherman],” the suit states. “Neither the Walpole Deputy Chief nor other panel members would disclose the source of this information.”
At that point, the suit states, it was clear to Roman the employment prospect had withered.
“[Sherman] subsequently boasted to other Tisbury officers that he was the person who had spoken to the Walpole Police about [Roman] and her partner being in a gay relationship,” the suit alleges. “[Sherman] openly bragged to other officers that he had ‘torpedoed’ [Roman’s] job opportunity with the Walpole Police Department.”
The suit alleges Sherman’s actions had “a ripple effect upon [Roman’s] subsequent attempts to secure law enforcement employment with other municipal police departments, including, but not limited to, the Wellesley and Concord Police Departments, as well as [Roman’s] attempts to return to the Tisbury Police Department.”
Several members of the Tisbury Police Department were perturbed Roman had been blackballed, the suit alleges.
When she tried to rejoin the Tisbury Police Department, the suit alleges the administrative can kept getting kicked down the road. The suit alleges former Tisbury select board member Melinda Loberg was in favor of Roman’s return, while select board member James Rogers attempted to stall her return. Roman was allegedly taken off a select board agenda, and then blocked from returning, the suit alleges, by a hiring freeze. The freeze manifested “despite the existence of six open police officer positions that had been available a week prior.”
Coincidentally, “the last ‘hiring freeze’ by the town of Tisbury was when [Roman’s] partner, Danielle Clermont, was under consideration to be appointed as a Tisbury Police officer,” the suit states.
As the Times previously reported, Roman succeeded in getting a job at the Westwood Police Department. Westwood Police Chief Jeffrey Silva previously told The Times Roman was a top candidate out of more than 200 applicants, and was “highly intelligent” and “highly credentialed,” and worked well with other officers in the department.
Concerning former Lt. Meisner, the suit alleges he initiated an investigation of Sherman’s behavior toward Roman. “Lt. Meisner concluded that [Sherman] had provided false information to the Walpole Police Department maliciously, with the specific intent of preventing [Roman] from securing employment there,” the suit alleges.
Despite allegations against him and an open MCAD, the suit states, Sherman wasn’t disciplined, and was ultimately promoted to sergeant.
When Meisner explained to Saloio, the incoming chief, issues relative to Roman and Sherman and that Roman was a family friend, Saloio allegedly employed “thinly veiled threats” to make clear Meisner should show loyalty to the town.
Meisner later told a town lawyer he supported Roman’s MCAD claims, according to the suit.
“Lt. Meisner’s comments regarding his investigation of [Sherman] and the conclusions he reached were not well received by the defendants, including [Saloio],” the suit alleges. “[A] week after Lt. Meisner’s interview with the town’s attorney, [Saloio] instructed Lt. Meisner to stay late. Chief Saloio called Lt. Meisner into his office and ordered him to turn over his service weapon, badge, and ID card, because Lt. Meisner was ‘all done.’”
The suit argues Saloio and the town retaliated in an attempt to undermine the MCAD complaint. As The Times previously reported, Meisner later filed a federal suit of his own, and settled with Tisbury for $400,000. Roman hired the same Needham firm to represent her as Meisner did, the Law Offices of Timothy M. Burke.
Updated with a comment from the town on the lawsuit. –Ed.