New lawsuit alleges racial, gender discrimination in Pierce County Sheriff’s Department

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — Three African-American women who work for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department have filed a lawsuit against the county alleging a long-standing pattern of discrimination, harassment and retaliation against minority employees.

Lt. Charla James-Hutchison and Sgts. Dione Alexander and Sabrina Braswell-Bouyer are the highest-ranking Black women in the department’s 168-year history.

Their attorneys filed the suit on their behalf Monday, claiming that the women — who all work in Pierce County Jail — have suffered emotional distress, economic losses and damage to their reputations due to the decades of discrimination.

No specific damages are specified in the lawsuit.

James-Hutchison, Alexander and Braswell-Bouyer are among 12 Black women who work for the Sheriff’s Department, according to county statistics. There are 47 Black sworn employees in the department out of about 614.

“For decades, the top echelons of the Defendant PCSD have both participated in and ignored racial harassment and discrimination, as well as gender-based discrimination, and allowed the culture of animosity towards African Americans and women to grow and fester,” according to the lawsuit.

Adam Faber, spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office, which represents the Sheriff’s Department in legal matters, said he cannot comment on pending litigation.

The women have been subjected to racial slurs, told they were only hired or promoted to “fill a quota,” called thugs because of their hairstyles, had colleagues make comments about how the COVID-19 vaccines should be tested on Black people before white people, subjected to heil Hitler salutes during training meetings and called an “angry Black woman,” the suit says.

When they complained, they were allegedly retaliated against by having their positions altered or ignored all together.

Correctional deputies launched a “smear campaign” against James-Hutchison when she reported certain behaviors and several filed “baseless complaints” against her, attorneys John Connelly, Meaghan M. Driscoll and Hollie Connelly wrote in the lawsuit.

After Alexander filed a complaint with the department’s Equal Employment Opportunity Services, the county allegedly failed to respond for more than a year.

The suit says that when white employees complained about Alexander, the complaints were promptly investigated.

“Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit seeking accountability and redress for Pierce County Sheriff’s Department’s deep-seeded culture of discrimination against racial minorities and women, and acts of retaliation against those who dare speak out in support of women and African Americans in the workplace,” according to the suit.

James-Hutchison, 54, has worked for the department since 1989. Alexander, 56, was hired in 1995. Braswell-Bouyer, 53, has been with the department since 1990.

This story was originally published by The News Tribune.