Good news is close to home

Got this in an e-mail from a feminist listserv. Good news happening in a town not so far away from mine!

Deputy accepts $370,000 in gender bias lawsuit

By Todd Ruger

SARASOTA COUNTY – The Sheriff’s Office has agreed to revamp its promotions process and pay $370,000 to its highest-ranking female deputy to settle her gender discrimination lawsuit.

Settlement includes Joan Verizzo’s promotion to captain. Joan Verizzo accused former Sheriff Bill Balkwill of manipulating the agency’s promotions to favor men, pointing out that there were no women among the top 18 sheriff’s administrators with ranks of captain or above.

Today, Verizzo, a 24-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, will be promoted to captain and retire. The settlement agrees to pay her $300,000 in damages, plus $70,000 in salary that she lost since 2004 because she was not promoted to captain at that time.

Verizzo’s lawsuit also pushed for policy changes.

The Sheriff’s Office agreed to post all vacancies for lieutenant and captain positions, and provide more training to deputies on gender discrimination issues.

The agency will also create a three-person Promotion Assessment Board, which must include at least one woman, to review and recommend promotions to the sheriff.

And it will strengthen language to protect deputies from retaliation if they make complaints about discrimination.

“I don’t think it just helps women. It will help everyone, including men and other minorities,” said Verizzo’s attorney, Kendra Presswood. “It should make the promotion process fair for everyone.”

Presswood declined to comment further until after Verizzo’s ceremony today.

Verizzo’s lawsuit accused Balkwill of using subjective criteria such as oral boards and changing the point system to de-emphasize education to promote men over better qualified women.

Once the head of the sheriff’s human resources department, Verizzo says six less-qualified men were promoted to captain while she remained a lieutenant. Then she was effectively demoted to a position in the warrants section, and told Balkwill she planned to file a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Two days later, she was transferred to the Animal Services Division, where her supervisors had less seniority and experience than Verizzo.

Verizzo, who has a law degree, started her career as a prosecutor but was hired at the Sheriff’s Office as a research specialist and became a law enforcement officer nine months later.

On Thursday, Presswood filed another gender discrimination lawsuit on behalf of a female corrections deputy with similar accusations against Balkwill.


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