“The final straw for me was a succession of events over the last few months of my employment,” said former officer Shannon Woolsey.
Woolsey filed a sexual harassment suit against the this month after quitting her job in May 2011. Court documents allege that several members of the Town and Country police department made highly inappropriate and sexual comments to her throughout her 10-year career. She said her supervisors did little to stop the harassment despite her complaints.
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The comments are listed in the court documents included in the PDF portion of this article. Readers can also visit WhoLou.Net for a breakdown of the lawsuit.
Woolsey said she was the only female patrol officer during most of her years with Town and Country. The unit has about 30 employees total, and only one woman—a clerk—works there. Nearly 100 women reportedly work as police for St. Louis County, not quite 10 percent of the officers.
Besides alleging being sexually harassed both verbally and with pornographic photos sent to her phone, she is also accusing the department of overlooking her for a transfer to a special unit and making her take non-existent firearms tests.
“The coup de gras was when that sergeant called me in off the road for a seven hour meeting in which he and the corporal belittled me until I was physically ill. The only reason the meeting adjourned was because our shift was ending,” she told Patch.
She said she decided to file the lawsuit to “rectify the improprieties” she experienced. She said if she did nothing about the harassment, then she would feel like she had failed both herself and womankind.
“It boils down to one of two things: ignorance or arrogance; neither of which should be tolerated in a profession which we hold to such high standards,” Woolsey said.
During this time, she wrote “Challenges for Women in Policing,” an article that appeared in Law and Order Magazine in October 2010, six months before she resigned. She said she wrote the article because she wanted to educate others. She told Patch the article was based on things she had learned while earning her 2010 master’s degree in criminal justice from University of Central Missouri.
“This article grew out of one of my research papers,” she said. “I realized I was not alone in what I was experiencing and yes, I was frustrated.”
Woolsey said Town and Country Police Captain Gary Hoelzer approved the article before she submitted it and she said he was the only person to congratulate her after it was published.
“I know that officers were aware of the article because the magazine was at the station and I became aware of some negative comments circulating about my having written the article,” she said. Her last year with the police department was “extremely difficult,” but she isn’t sure how much can be blamed on just backlash from writing the article.
Woolsey said that she always wanted to do something to help other people, though law enforcement was not her first line of work. Before training to be a police officer, she was a social worker. She decided to attend the police academy because she was ready for a bigger challenge and hoped to earn more money. She is currently working for a long-term care facility where she is still able to help people.
“I doubt I would return to police work because I have a really bad taste in my mouth right now over the experience I have had at Town and Country. Also, once you file a lawsuit for sexual harassment, it is difficult to get hired by another agency, however, I have not tried.”
She said that young women should not be discouraged from seeking a career in law enforcement despite her experience.
“The most valuable piece of advice I would give them is to apply at a department that is comprised of at least 10 to 20 percent women and values female officers. This will be evidenced by clear and concise policies regarding sexual harassment, discrimination and pregnancy,” she told Patch. “Most importantly, from the top ranking officer on down, the apparent prevailing message will be that women are valued and sexual harassment and discrimination will simply not be tolerated.”
Dobson, Goldberg, Berns & Rich, LLP are representing Woolsey. Associate attorney Meredith Berwick told Patch that a court date has not yet be set and that they are requesting $25,000 in damages in order to present the case at the circuit court level. If they win the suit, any amount awarded will be set by a jury and would include lost wages, emotional damages, possibly punitive damages and attorney's fees.
Town and Country city officials referred Patch to attorney Chris Hesse for a comment. Hesse has not returned Patch's calls for a comment.
UPDATE: 10:15 a.m. Tuesday, March 27 - Information about Woosley's education was added to this article. The interview with Woolsey was conducted via email.