Congress

Fired Capitol Police officer loses sex discrimination lawsuit

Jury finds gender was a factor, but not the only one, and rejects compensatory damages

Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine, right, and former Chief Matthew Verderosa testified in the gender discrimination trial. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Fired Capitol Police officer Chrisavgi Sourgoutsis’ gender was a motivating factor in her dismissal, but the force still would have terminated her, a federal jury found in rejecting her sexual discrimination lawsuit.

Tuesday’s verdict means Sourgoutsis failed to prove she would have remained on the force, but for her sex. The jury denied her bid for compensatory damages, and found she did not prove she was fired for testifying in a sexual harassment investigation into her supervisor.

[Capitol Police officials say Sourgoutsis deserves to be fired, despite mistakes

The decision marks the end of a legal battle that began in 2016 when Sourgoutsis sued over her 2015 firing.

“We are pleased with the outcome of the case, and the jury’s confirmation that the United States Capitol Police terminated Ms. Sourgoutsis for legitimate business purposes and did not act unlawfully,” Eva Malecki, a Capitol Police spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Gus Papathanasiou, the head of the union representing Capitol Police, said the outcome was wrong and disappointing for female officers.

“This decision is a big blow for the women in blue at the USCP,” said Papathanasiou. “Termination is the worst possible discipline the Department can take against an employee. Several supervisors testified that they violated their own policy and terminated this employee anyway.”

Lawyers for Sourgoutsis did not comment.

Papathanasiou noted that during the seven-day trial in U.S. District Court, officials in the department said there was a “systemic failure” in following evaluation procedures. The union leader called on Congress to hold management accountable.

“They ruined a young female officer’s career because they didn’t follow protocol,” he said. “There were no winners here.”

Infractions cited

All three of Sourgoutsis’ first-line supervisors testified that she met expectations, and two of them described her as a “good officer.” But current and former officials in the department testified she deserved to be fired, despite the department’s departure from protocol in taking that action.

UNITED STATES - JUNE 16: A U.S. Capitol Police cruiser sits parked on the East Plaza of the Capitol on Thursday, June 16, 2011. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)
A U.S. Capitol Police cruiser sits parked on the East Plaza of the Capitol. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Capitol Police described Sourgoutsis as an employee who wasn’t a good fit for the department, a sentiment that they said was evident from the start of her training. Sourgoutsis’ seven training violations ranged from uniform violations — such as wearing the wrong color socks — to chewing gum in class and missing her initial class photos because she was using the bathroom. She went on to graduate from the training academy in November 2014.

As a sworn police officer, Sourgoutsis received two command disciplinary infractions during her probationary period: one for a uniform infraction and another for sitting on a retaining wall while guarding a door at the Capitol Visitor Center. Her superiors alleged that she was distracted from guarding the door. These violations occurred on May 10, 2015 and May 11, 2015.

The trial brought several department issues to the forefront, including a supervisor calling female subordinates “señorita” and “chica” while addressing male officers in a professional manner.

For new officers, department policies said quarterly reports “must be considered” when making a final determination of whether to fire a probationary employee. These reports routinely were not completed for officers under the leadership of Kim Dine, the former chief of police who was in charge when Sourgoutsis was fired in 2015. Dine’s successor, Matthew Verderosa, testified at trial that the department’s lack of adherence to its own policy regarding quarterly reports was a “systemic failure.”

None of Sourgoutsis’ quarterly reports was completed when it was time to fill out the fourth and final assessment of her job performance. This procedural shortcoming did not undermine the rationale for the Capitol Police to fire her, Dine said.

“Regardless of how her performance was monitored, it didn’t negate her actions,” Dine said last week at trial.

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