A Henderson police officer is suing the city, claiming she has faced discrimination because she is a transgender woman.
Officer Bridget Ward’s complaint against the city was filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas on Dec. 23. The lawsuit claims that the city and the Henderson Police department have created a culture that allows different treatment of employees based on religion and gender identity and expression.
“The City of Henderson denies all claims of wrongdoing brought forward by Officer Ward and will vehemently defend itself against these false allegations,” Henderson spokeswoman Kathleen Richards said in a statement.
In a January 2019 Las Vegas Review-Journal story detailing Ward’s transition, Richards applauded Ward’s decision to share her experience and said the city is committed to ensuring a safe and fair workplace.
Colleen McCarty, an attorney for Ward, said she is hoping the lawsuit will force the city to address what she considers a culture problem. Ward, she said, is an exemplary officer who works every day to serve her community.
“She should be able to go to work without fear of discrimination, harassment and retaliation,” McCarty said.
In one instance, a human resources business partner allegedly used offensive language to refer to gender-affirming medical procedures and refused to change their language after Ward attempted to correct them, according to the complaint. The filing does not specify what the employee said.
She claims that in 2019, Henderson Police Officers’ Association President Gary Hargis made unwelcome comments about her legs and touched her above the knee while they were at a conference table. She complained to human resources, according to the complaint.
Hargis did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Ward, an agnostic, has also taken issue with religious references made by the previous chief and during the current chief’s swearing-in ceremony.
Ward also alleges that she faced retaliation from a high-ranking member of the department in October 2018 for naming him in a human resources complaint. Then-chief of staff David Burns allegedly sent a departmentwide email to acknowledge officers who had responded to the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting on the Strip. The email noted Ward’s pre-transition name, the lawsuit alleges.
About the same time, Burns allegedly retaliated against Ward by accusing her of wrongdoing in a deadly police shooting. Ward, who used deadly force in the encounter and was inadvertently shot by a fellow officer, was ultimately cleared by internal affairs.
Given the opportunity to have Burns respond to the claims, Richards, the Henderson spokeswoman, said specific allegations would be addressed in a court filing.
In November 2018, a board recommended that Ward receive the Medal of Honor and Purple Heart for her experience in the deadly encounter. After not receiving the Purple Heart, Ward complained to human resources, according to the filing.
She was eventually told she did not receive the recognition because she was shot by a fellow officer, not a suspect, according to the lawsuit.
Passed over for promotion
The filing also alleges that Ward was passed over for a specialized assignment despite being chosen by a selection board for the role. Instead, the department promoted a male officer who was less qualified, the complaint alleges. Ward was put back on patrol with a pay cut.
Ward filed a complaint with human resources claiming she was passed over because of her gender identity and expression. The city told her she had been denied the promotion because of an initiative to give specialized assignments to those who had never held them before.
Meanwhile, another transgender officer was passed over for a promotion because they did not have experience in a specialized role, according to the complaint.
After the previous chief, LaTesha Watson, was fired in 2019, Ward was offered the assignment despite a finding from human resources that she had not been discriminated against.
She was told Watson’s hiring decision had been reversed because of unspecified violations, according to the complaint.
Ward took the job but declined an offer of $1,200 to release all claims.