Former top female officer sues FHP

Published January 24, 2007

The Florida Highway Patrol's highest-ranking female officer has filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the agency for firing her last year.

Rebecca Tharpe joined the FHP in 1980, rising to the rank of major. She was most recently based in Bradenton, where she oversaw a 10-county area including Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties.

According to her lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Tampa, Tharpe said she was "subjected to an ongoing pattern and practice of harassment and discrimination" due to her gender throughout her career.

The lawsuit alleges she was fired in June 2006 in retaliation for filing a gender discrimination suit in 2003 that was later settled.

In an internal memo filed as an attachment to Tharpe's lawsuit, Highway Patrol director Christopher Knight calls Tharpe's termination "something that should have been done long ago."

He also said Tharpe "has a pattern of taking action against the department when she does not receive promotions or positions that she believes are her inherent rights because of her gender."

Tharpe was being investigated at the time in connection with female trooper Tiffany Ferrell, the memo said. Ferrell had been allowed to keep patrolling after six squad car crashes in her first year, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported.

Knight's memo accused Tharpe of failing to take responsibility, and warned there was "little doubt that Maj. Tharpe will file some type of legal action or discriminatory claim" if she was fired.