PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — A trio of Black women working in the Pierce County Jail won a settlement of over $1 million for their lawsuit accusing the Pierce County Sheriff's Department of pervasive sexism and racism.
Lt. Charla James-Hutchison and Sergeants Dione Alexander and Sabrina Braswell-Bouyer filed the lawsuit to Pierce County Superior Court in 2021, claiming the Pierce County Sheriff's Department “have both participated in and ignored racial harassment and discrimination, as well as gender-based discrimination, and allowed the culture of animosity towards African Americans and women to grow and fester.”
The women accepted the county's offers of judgment awarding the officers $1,052,978.78, according to a March 18 court filing.
The officers’ attorney, Meaghan M. Driscoll, said examples of the toxic environment were easy to find.
According to statistics provided by Pierce County in Nov. 2021, only 12 Black women work for the sheriff’s department, which has a workforce of 689 people.
“Uses of the N-word in jail settings, uses of comments like Black protesters should be shot or run over," Driscoll said. "It’s really the top-down culture that’s being perpetuated and allowed to perpetuate within the sheriff's department."
Driscoll said the three women tried to notify their superiors of their treatment at the Pierce County Jail, but their complaints were ignored. The officers' lawyer said this was a common occurrence for the sheriff department’s Black employees.
“When an African American employee files a complaint, it might sit there for a year before it’s even addressed or investigated," Driscoll said. "When a Caucasian employee files a complaint, it’s addressed immediately."
Driscoll recommended the Pierce County Sheriff's Department implement additional training, add more supervision and investigate complaints to cultivate a better working environment for its employees.
Another woman working with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department filed a lawsuit in late March, accusing leadership of sexism.
Detective Sergeant Jessica Whitehead, a 15-year veteran of the department, said in the lawsuit she was having problems with Lt. Kevin Roberts, one of her male leaders.
In the lawsuit, Whitehead said Roberts assigned a male detective sergeant to lead the Sexual Assault Unit (SAU) because he “did not want two female officers to lead SAU back-to-back.”
Whitehead's lawsuit is ongoing.