ORLANDO, Fla. — Hired by the Orlando Police Department when she was 24 years old, Dolores Bracero’s identity was rooted in being a cop. In 10 years patrolling the city’s streets, she said she took pride in never turning down someone who asked for help.
“I didn’t care if it was the neighborhood drunk. If he said something happened, I would help,” she said. “... Not everybody’s willing to go that extra mile.”
But she injured her hand and wrist during a training exercise in 2015 and was unable to return to patrol. Bracero applied for medical retirement, but instead was reassigned to jobs that involved making copies and inventorying laptops in a windowless room. When she was told three years later that she had to return to full police duties — despite her inability to meet job demands, according to her doctor’s evaluation — she said she refused and was fired.
Bracero, 38, is among at least three female Orlando Police Department officers who have recently filed complaints against the agency through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging OPD discriminates against disabled women by more often forcing them into menial roles while men with similar injuries are allowed to retire and collect their pensions.
The practice, they say, reflects a culture within OPD that denies opportunities to women in favor of men.
“I was young when I signed up. I’ve given pretty much my life ... birthdays, holidays, everything, for a job that, when I needed them, they turned their back on me," Bracero said. "... [T]hey want to say that we’re a huge OPD family. They have shown that it’s only for certain people.”
In EEOC complaints, Bracero and two other women, Elizabeth Waba Daniels and Cheryl Middleton, describe being harassed by male employees because of their gender and later retaliated against after requesting accommodations for their injuries. All three women were given notice by the EEOC in June of their right to sue, though the Commission did not make a determination as to whether OPD had violated any Florida statutes.
Jeffrey Appel, the Lakeland attorney representing the three women, said federal lawsuits against the Police Department are expected to be filed this week, alleging the agency violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and their civil rights. Waba Daniels and Middleton, who still work at OPD, declined to be interviewed about their complaints, allowing their lawyer to comment for them.
“There’s really two things going on: It’s treating them different because they have a disability and an overlapping layer of being treated different because they are females with a disability,” Appel said.
Citing pending litigation, OPD declined to make Chief Orlando Rolón available for an interview to comment on allegations laid out in the complaints.
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By Tess Sheets
AT POLICE1 by Lexipol