By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
ROYAL OAK – Thanks to what she claims is an “old boys’ network” headed by current Chief of Police Theodore Quisenberry, Royal Oak police officer Karyn Risch is suing for the promotion that she claims should be hers.
“All I ever wanted to be was a police officer,” Karyn Risch told the Detroit Free Press in a story published June 14.
According to the Free Press report, Risch alleges that she was passed over for a promotion six times despite having seniority and better test scores than male candidates who received promotions. There are currently no women in upper management of the city’s police force.
“She’s being discriminated against because she’s a woman,” said Richard Lippitt, Risch’s attorney, who added that Risch is also “not their idea of what a woman should be.”
“I think what he means by that is that obviously, I’m gay, and obviously I stick up for myself,” Risch told BTL. Risch said that she has been out at work for at least 10 years and has had no trouble with other officers.
However, the department investigated Risch at least indirectly as a result of her sexual orientation, according to the Free Press report. Late in 2000, after being assigned to an Oakland County drug squad, Risch asked not to take part on a raid on a gay bar out of concern that patrons there might recognize her and thus blow the raid. When the raid wasn’t as successful as the police had planned, Risch was investigated and cleared of the charge of having tipped off patrons, according to the Free Press report.
Risch told BTL that she was “definitely” investigated because she is a lesbian.
“I had heard after the raid went down that my boss was making claims that the reason there weren’t a lot of people there, and certain people weren’t there, was because I obviously tipped them off — because, you know, all the gay people know each other,” Risch said.
Risch told BTL that only one woman had been promoted to upper management before QuisenberryÕs tenure began in 2000, but “the chief before him never had the opportunity because you had to test high enough on the test. No other woman tested highly enough.”
Though sexual orientation isn’t mentioned in the suit — it is legal in the state of Michigan to discriminate in hiring and promotions on the basis of sexual orientation — Lippitt told BTL that the LGBT community ought to be concerned about the overall lack of diversity in the management ranks of Royal Oak’s police department.
“That alone should be a relatively disturbing fact — and it should be disturbing to gay and lesbians, because it shows a police force that is not committed to diversity,” Lippitt said. “Why would they have a city of 40,000—60,000 people, known and lauded for the diversity of its citizenry, and there’s no female leadership in their police force?”
“The law enforcement field in general has not been the best place for women and minorities, and we still deal with homophobia in police departments across Michigan, but I don’t want to make allegations against Royal Oak,” said Sean Kosofsky, policy director for Triangle Foundation, who added that there have been “no recent complaints” about the Royal Oak force made to Triangle.
Risch said the lack of advancement opportunities for women under Quisenberry was part of an overall “hostile workplace.”
“The whole atmosphere that he brings — the workplace is very hostile, there’s a lot of backbiting, the command and the police officers don’t work together anymore — it’s divisive and cutthroat, I guess you could call it,” she said.
Chief Quisenberry’s office directed BTL to city attorney David Gillam, who said that the city doesn’t have a policy on the promotion of women.
“I think the dept reviews every promotion situation on its individual merits,” Gillam said, and added that the case would be assigned to an attorney for the city’s insurance company. According to the Free Press report, the suit has been assigned to U.S. District Judge John O’Meara.
By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman