Discrimination Charged in Officer’s Lawsuit
West Chester – July 3, 2018 – A former police officer in East Whiteland has filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that township officials passed her over for promotion because of her gender, even though she had been promised the job by the then-police chief.
Sian M. Keating contends that she should have been promoted from her part-time position on the township’s police force to a full-time position that became vacant when another officer was promoted to sergeant, but that the township manager blocked her because he wanted a male candidate promoted.
The decision by Township Manager John Nagel came despite the support that Keating received from then-Police Chief Eugene Dooley and other high-ranking police officials in the township. She was even fitted for a new uniform in preparation for the new position.
According to the lawsuit, the full-time position that Keating was in line for is still vacant. Keating, of Tredyffrin, a four-year veteran of the East Whiteland patrol division, has since taken a position with nearby Malvern, becoming the borough’s first full-time female officer.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on June 20 by attorneys Patricia V. Pierce and Julie A. Uebler with the Philadelphia law firm of Greenblatt, Pierce, Funt and Flores. In it, Keating asks that she be given the full-time position she was promised, as well as compensatory damages.
Nagle did not comment specifically on the lawsuit, citing its status as pending litigation, but said in a statement that, “East Whiteland is an equal opportunity employer and strives to maintain a welcoming environment where employees can thrive while serving those who live, work and visit the township.”
Township Solicitor Joseph J. McGrory Jr. of the law firm of Hamburg, Rubin, Mullin, Maxwell & Lupin of Lansdale declined comment on Tuesday.
In the complaint, Keating is identified as a 2011 graduate of the Delaware County Community College’s municipal police academy, with training in DUI investigation, human trafficking investigation, drug identification, and other police patrol fields. She began working part-time for East Whiteland in November 2013, after having worked as a police officer in Darby, Delaware County, earlier that year.
According to the suit, in early 2017 St. Dan Wilson notified then-Chief Eugene Dooley of his intention to retire that summer. Dooley intended to promote Officer John Kopacz to the rank of sergeant to fill that vacancy, and to then promote Keating to fill the full-time position that Kopacz was leaving in the department’s detective division.
Dooley formally proposed the two promotions at an executive session of the Board of Supervisors on May 3, 2017, according to the complaint. The promotions were both tentatively approved, the suit states, and Keating was advised of her promotion that day.
But on May 5, 2017, Nagel met with Dooley and Lt. Mark Ercole and told them they could not promote Keating and that Officer Jeffrey Murray, another part-time officer, should be promoted ahead of her. The only explanation given was that Murray had prior military experience that Keating did not have.
“There was no requirement that East Whiteland give preference for promotions to candidates with military service,” the complaint states. “Mr. Nagle’s explanation was just a pretext for gender discrimination. The real reason Mr. Nagle preferred Officer Murray was because of his gender.”
Still, Dooley continued to assure Keating that he would push for her promotion. At one point, Deputy Chief Chris Yeager asked Keating to appear for a fitting from a new dress uniform, which only full-time officers receive, according to the suit. Eventually, in late May 2017, Dooley told Keating that she and Murray would be given assignments in the detectives division on part-time basis to “compete” for the full-time job for six months. By then, he said, the township would have adopted new hiring policies and a decision would be made as to who would get the promotion.
Keating claims that she received contacts from Sgt. Patricia Doyle, head of the detective’s division, about the situation. Doyle first told her that Murray had also “been promised” the promotion to full-time, and that both of the candidates have families to support. But she said that both Keating and Murray were qualified for the post, and that Nagle’s proposal for the six-month competition was “ridiculous.”
Kopacz was promoted on June 14, 2017, by the supervisors, even though no new hiring policies had been adopted, and previously the supervisors’ approval for personnel decisions by Dooley were not required.
Between August and November 2017, the township hired or extended offers to five new part-time police officers, even though it had not adopted new hiring policies or procedures, the suit states. The supervisors were supposed to have discussed policy revisions in February and April, but did not adopt the new policy until June 13. At the time, the supervisors chair described the policy as being “long overdue.”
Dooley had gone on leave for months before he died in March. Keating had sought and received approval from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a discrimination lawsuit, its deadline being June 25.
According to the suit, the new hiring policy was a “misguided attempt to defend themselves from Officer Keating’s lawsuit and not because they required such a policy to implement police hiring and promotions” some of which had taken place without the policy since Wilson’s retirement. That vacancy, the suit suggests, is still open, and Murray still works as a part-time officer.
Keating received an offer of full-time employment in Malvern in March, and accepted it, resigning her post in East Whiteland because full-time Malvern officers cannot work in other departments.
The suit asks for damages in excess of $150,000 on counts of gender discrimination, as well as attorneys fees. A jury trial is being demanded.
This story was published in the Daily Local News on July 4, 2018 and was written by Daily Local News staff writer Michael P. Rellahan.