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Judge removes police chief from lawsuit


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- A judge has ruled that a former St. Petersburg policewoman has no grounds to sue the city's police chief. But the woman will continue her suit against the city, saying the Police Department discriminated against her.

Karen Lea, who once supervised the city's sex crimes squad, filed a federal lawsuit last year against police Chief Goliath Davis III and the city of St. Petersburg.

Lea said that after Davis became chief in 1997, she was subjected to a hostile work environment because she had complained of sexual harassment by Davis in the early 1980s.

U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams Jr. has dismissed Davis from the lawsuit, so Lea is suing the city.

"I don't look at it as a setback," said St. Petersburg attorney James Sheehan, who is representing Lea. "We still have a case against the city, and the city is liable for the actions of the chief and the people at the top of the Police Department."

At the police chief's request, the federal judge granted the chief "qualified immunity" in the case. That shields government officials from being personally sued over actions that they take in the good-faith belief that no one's rights are being violated.

The judge ruled that Lea had no evidence that Davis knowingly violated her rights.

The city has asked the judge to dismiss Lea's lawsuit altogether. If the suit isn't dismissed, it is scheduled to go to trial next month. Lea is asking for back pay and compensatory damages.

Lea joined the police force in 1975 and was promoted to sergeant in 1983.

In 1997, she was assigned to monitor a patrol officer's unscheduled sick time to see whether he had a drinking problem.

The officer had to call Lea whenever he wanted a day off, and Lea said he started making sexually inappropriate comments.

Lea reported this to her boss, but she was later told that Davis said she had no credibility, according to her lawsuit.

Lea had made allegations of sexual harassment by Davis in the early '80s, saying Davis had repeatedly asked her for dates. Davis denied it, and nothing ever came of the complaint.

Lea quit the department in 1998 after being suspended and demoted for making profane comments about another employee's sexual orientation.

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