Austin Police Detective Brenda Bermudez filed a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit against the City of Austin on December 29, 2014.
Bermudez filed a discrimination charge with the City of Austin Equal Employment/Fair Housing Office, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Civil Rights Division of the Texas Workforce Commission. The Texas Workforce Commission sent Bermudez a “Right to Sue” letter.
Bermudez started working for the City of Austin as a police officer in 2001 and consistently received strong performance evaluations and numerous commendations for her work.
In 2009, she was promoted from a Police Officer to a Detective, and in 2012 Bermudez was selected to work as a detective in the Human Trafficking and Vice Unit of the Organized Crime Division, which investigates under-age victims who have been forced into prostitution as well as other cases involving prostitution and pornography related laws and offenses.
The following are some of the allegations that Bermudez made in her sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit complaint:
After Detective Bermudez began working in the Human Trafficking Unit, certain male detectives in the unit began severely sexually harasing her. For example, on many, many occasions, certain male detectives in the unit would show Detective Bermudez pornographic photos on their computers of nude women obtained from prostitution-oriented web sites.
The male detectives would make sexually offensive “jokes” and comments using explicit and offensive slang terms, speaking about women’s bodies and whether they would have sex with the women on the web sites.
The detectives would relentlessly taunt, harass, and badger Detective Bermudez regarding the women, photographs, and sexual topics generally, repeatedly asking Detective Bermudez over and over sexually explicit questions about what she thought of the women, whether she would “do” or have sex with the women, (Detective Bermudez is lesbian), and make other explicit and offensive inappropriate sexual questions and remarks.
On multiple occasions a male employee of the department would tell Detectie Bermudez to “suck his dick.”
Certain male detectives in the Human Trafficking Unit used the term “cock blocking” on numerous occasions to describe situations when Detective Bermudez would prevent unnecessary encounters between the male detectives and unclothed female victims or suspects during undercover operations.
For example, after an undercover operation was completed and females were detained, the certain male detectives would harass and on occasion get angry with Detective Bermudez because she would help an unclothed female put on clothing or block the camera view while the female put on undergarments.
The male detectives would make comments such as “Damn Brenda, why do you always have to cock block?” or “There goes Brenda again, cock blocking!”
On multiple occasions, Detective Bermudez was actually physically blocked (in a delaying manner) during an entry after an undercover operation from making contact with unclothed female victims or suspects so that the male detectives could have longer contact with the unclothed females.
Detective Bermudez told the male detectives in the Human Trafficking Unit on many, many occasions and in many different ways that their conduct was offensive and unwelcome, however, they continued to harass her.
Detective Bermudez’s attempts to stop the conduct ranged from simply asking the detectives to stop, redirecting the discussion (“don’t you have work to do”), being forceful (“stop [f’ing] with me!”), to literally pleading with them to stop and having to leave the room because she was crying.
On multiple occasions, Detective Bermudez was forced to go along with the comments because objecting or fighting against it brought an onslaught of negative comments and behavior towards her.
Detective Bermudez would often wear ear plugs and ear phones at work to avoid having to listen to the male detectives’ harassing comments, however, on occasion the detectives would still not leave her alone and would stand near her, waiving at her and saying “I know you can hear me.”
The sexual harassment and hostile work environment also included the certain male detectives treating Bermudez far more harshly, critically and negatively in her work assignments.
In approximately January 2013, Detective Bermudez reported within the Human Trafficking Unit that two female civilian visitors to the unit had expressed or generated concern over the behavior and language of certain male detectives in the unit. After Detective Bermudez raised this concern, the male detectives in the unit attacked her and began retaliating against her. The male detectives would shen or ostracize her and were even more hostile and critical particularly with regard to her work assignments.
In approximately May 2013, Detective Bermudez filed an Internal Affairs complaint and a charge of discrimination with the City of Austin Equal Employment/Fair Housing Office, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Civil Rights Division of the Texas Workforce Commission.
Immediately after Detective Bermudez filed the Internal Affairs complaint and charge of discrimination, the City retaliated against Bermudez by “temporarily” removing her from the prestigious Human Trafficking Unit, supposedly for her own “protection,” and moving her to the Auto Theft Unit in the Property Crimes Division.
The male detectives whom she reported were allowed to remain in Human Trafficking and continued working with each other and with the other unit employees, exerting influence over persons who would be witnesses regarding her complaints.
Later, in approximately November 2013, the City informed Detective Bermudez that the Human Trafficking Unit was being “disbanded,” that the city would not transfer her back to Human Trafficking as originally promised, and that the City was instead moving her to yet another position.
In approximately June 2014, after conducting a biased and ineffective Internal Affairs investigation, the City issued Detective Bermudez a written reprimand for her alleged sexual harassment of the male police officers.
The sexual harassment and hostile work environment described in this petition occurred openly, in plain sight and hearing of City police supervisors, yet nothing was done to stop the behavior while Detective Bermudez was in the Human Trafficking Unit.
Additionally, Detective Bermudez attempted to talk with her superiors about these situations on multiple occasions prior to filing the Internal Affairs and EEOC complaints. The City Police Department management knew or should have known about the behavior, but failed to take appropriate remedial action.
This is a report on a civil lawsuit filed at the U.S. District Court. The details in this report come from an original complaint filed by a plaintiff. Please note that a complaint represents an accusation by a private individual, not the government. It is not an indication of guilt, and it represents only one side of the story.