Sunrise Police Officer Says She Was Forced to Announce Bathroom Breaks

Devona Stevenson had been an officer at the Sunrise Police Department for nearly 20 years when she was accused of leaving work without permission last September. Even after it was made clear that she hadn't actually left, she wasn't off the hook — instead, she says, her male supervisors reprimanded her for taking bathroom breaks.

In the future, Stevenson was told, she'd have to announce her trips to the restroom over the radio. As if that weren't enough, she would also have to give human resources a doctor's note to justify using the bathroom multiple times a day during her period.

Stevenson, who is black, is now suing the City of Sunrise. She says the bathroom situation is just one example of discriminatory treatment based on her race and sex. In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court, she claims her treatment was so bad she once had a panic attack at work.

"Since her hiring, Stevenson has noticed that she was treated differently than her white male and white female counterparts," the complaint reads. "Over the last 20 years, Stevenson has been subjected to higher scrutiny, disciplined more frequently and harsher, and passed over for opportunities due to her race and gender."

Sunrise, which has not yet filed an official response in court, forwarded a request for comment to its police department. Police department officials didn't immediately respond.

According to the complaint, years of poor treatment boiled over in 2017 after Stevenson applied to become a field training officer — a ranking that would provide her extra pay for every recruit she trained. But despite completing training and getting a perfect score on the qualification exam, she says she was never assigned any trainees.

Instead, they went to the other field training officers, all of whom were white men. A white female cop who wasn't even a field training officer was also assigned a trainee, the lawsuit claims. Stevenson was told she didn't get any because her traffic stop quota was too low, which she says was completely unrelated.

In May 2017, she told the city a vendor who complained about her was doing so for discriminatory reasons, since she and another black female officer were the only ones reported. Two months later, she asked for the discriminatory treatment to be investigated; instead, she says, a disciplinary memo was placed in her file. She was also removed from the assignment.

When Stevenson was told she would have to announce her bathroom breaks, she said she believed she was being singled out because of her race and gender, and her supervisor "began to physically hover over her, berating her in a threatening manner, while she was seated," the complaint claims. She complained to HR, but nothing happened.

Then, in November, a white officer refused a call and said it should be assigned to Stevenson. Her supervisor announced over the radio he was giving it to Stevenson to embarrass her. After that, she was reprimanded by her supervisor and told she wasn't pulling her weight.

Ultimately, she says, she had a panic attack and had to be taken to the hospital. In response, her supervisor gave her a fitness-for-duty suspension.

Stevenson, who says she suffered mental anguish and loss of dignity in the ordeal, is seeking lost wages and unspecified damages. 
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Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas