Officer Darlene Harris talks to Jeff Graham, executive director, (not pictured) during their community meeting at Georgia Equality in Atlanta, GA on Monday, July 14, 2008. (Marcus Yam/AJC)
Photo: Marcus Yam
Photo: Marcus Yam

Former LGBT liaison officer sues Atlanta police for discrimination

Atlanta Police Department’s former LGBT community liaison has filed a federal lawsuit claiming APD used her grand mal seizures as a pretext for offering to demote or fire her after her formal complaint against a co-worker who made derogatory comments about her sexual orientation.

Darlene Harris, who was assigned to the chief’s office as APD’s liaison with the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, claims in the lawsuit the department discriminated against her, created a hostile work environment and violated the American with Disabilities Act by not making reasonable accommodations for her medical condition.

APD declined to comment because there is a pending lawsuit. Harris’ attorney was unavailable for comment. Information on Harris’ current assignment in the department was not available Thursday.

Harris had the first of two seizures in December 2009.

When she returned to work in January 2010, Harris said in a federal lawsuit, a civilian working in the chief’s office made several derogatory comments about her sexual orientation. An internal affairs investigation found Harris’ claims about the comments to be true.

“Why you gay? I don’t understand,” the administrative assistant said according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday. “You confused,” she also allegedly said. “Why can’t you settle in with a man and get the same feelings or emotions from a heterosexual relationship?” the woman reportedly said.

On April 16, 2010, two days after Harris had her second seizure, she filed a complaint detailing the comments from the office worker.

Then two days after Harris submitted the complaint to APD’s human resources department, she was sent home on unpaid medical leave for five months. During that time, Harris unsuccessfully asked the department to allow her to return to her job as LGBT liaison and to make accommodations for her disability.

The lawsuit says Harris “required only one accommodation to perform the essential function of her job – she could not drive a patrol car with the lights flashing.”

Harris returned to work in October 2010, but by then she had been replaced as LGBT liaison and re-assigned as a police officer.

Eventually, according to the suit, APD determined she was not “fit for duty” because she could not drive a patrol car with flashing lights. APD offered her the option of a lower-paying civilian position as a dispatcher or termination.

Harris, who secured permission to sue for discrimination from the federal Equal Employment Commission, complained of a “retaliatory hostile working environment” and said APD’s “failure to accommodate (her) was a pretext designed to cover up (APD’s) retaliatory motive.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.