Video report by Beau Berman, Fox CT Text by Shawn R. Beals, The Hartford Courant MIDDLETOWN — A transgender police officer has filed a complaint with the state ...
Video report by Beau Berman, Fox CT
Text by Shawn R. Beals, The Hartford Courant
MIDDLETOWN — A transgender police officer has filed a complaint with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities alleging supervisors in the police department created a hostile work environment because of her gender identity.
Officer Francesca Quaranta, 46, began to transition from male to female about two years ago, after living most of her life concealing what she considered to be her true self, she said.
Quaranta was hired in 2004 after spending eight years as a police officer in Rocky Hill. Until last year she had told only a few close friends – including a few in the Middletown Police Department — that she identifies as a woman instead of a man.
“For seven and a half years, they knew nothing,” she said, but once she started to come out things changed quickly. “That’s pretty much when everything started.”
Quaranta has been out on paid administrative leave since August, when she requested a leave of absence from the department. She filed the CHRO complaint in October. The city’s human relations department is also conducting an investigation into Quaranta’s claims of workplace discrimination.
Attorney Josephine Miller, who is representing Quaranta, said the city has not yet filed a response to the CHRO complaint.
“The prudent thing for them to do would be to complete the [internal] investigation,” Miller said. “We would like to have her back at work as soon as possible.”
Mayor Daniel Drew said he and Police Chief William McKenna have not stopped Quaranta from returning to work.
“Officer Quaranta is a good officer with a good record,” Drew said. “She is welcome to come back at any time.”
Quaranta and her attorney say they are waiting for the city to complete its investigation before she returns to work.
Quaranta said growing up in Bridgeport as Frank Quaranta, she lived a double life. The 1980s wasn’t the ideal time to come out as transgender, she said.
She knew early on that she felt more like a girl than a boy, she said, but kept it a secret into her 20s from all but her closest friends. She kept women’s clothing and makeup at friends’ houses and only felt like herself when she dressed as a woman, she said.
Quaranta got married at 25, and though the marriage did not last, she said the two remain “best friends but separated,” although they have not divorced. She has a son, and only after coming out to him when he was 16 did she feel as if she could reveal her gender identity to everyone else, she said.
“That put it all together,” she said. “If he knew and he didn’t care and was actually encouraging and excited about it, then I knew it would all just work.”
Until that time, Quaranta said, her life was stressful and complicated.
“You’re just not the person you want to be,” she said. “You’re stuck. You’re stuck in a world that only knows you that one way.”
In an interview with the Courant, Quaranta said her supervisors, including McKenna, initially seemed supportive when she came out as a transgender woman, but her work environment gradually changed until, she said, it reached a point where she felt she was being harassed and discriminated against.
Supervisors no longer recognized her seniority and asked for her shift preference, she said, or whether she would rather work a walking beat or a patrol beat. She said supervisors also began questioning her response times on routine calls.
Quaranta said she was repeatedly reprimanded and written up by her superiors over the length of her wig, nail polish color, earrings and alleged violations of other department regulations to which the other female officers were not subjected.
“I was not safe in their building emotionally, professionally or physically until they resolve the issue,” Quaranta said. “I’m asking them professionally to leave me alone unless I do something completely wrong.”
City officials, however, said Quaranta has been treated the same as every other police officer in the department. Drew said after Quaranta revealed her gender identity, the police department held sensitivity training and sexual harassment training. He said both male and female officers have been reminded that their hair can’t block their peripheral vision and that earrings should be avoided for safety purposes.
“The standards Officer Quaranta was held to were the standards every officer is held to,” Drew said. “We’ve made it clear to Officer Quaranta on multiple occasions we belive in her and would like her to continue with the department.”
Quaranta said one of the reasons she filed the CHRO complaint is because she was not confident she could come to an agreement with the department.
“Everything they said, they’ve never held to,” she said. “I have no faith in their word. I don’t trust them with anything.”
Quaranta is one of three police officers who accused McKenna last summer of trying to acquire prescription pain medication from police officers. In October, Drew hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation of their claims.
Drew said the city has substantiated one of Quaranta’s claims of discrimination, and has suspended Sgt. Nicholas Baboolal for 10 days because of a comment he made in March. An internal affairs investigation substantiated a report that Baboolal referred to Quaranta as a “cave man.”
Baboolal received notification of his suspension on Friday. Quaranta said Baboolal has apologized to her many times, and although she was extremely upset by the comment at first, she has forgiven him.
Drew said he believes Quaranta’s claims were made “in good faith,” but said so far no other claims of discrimination have been verified.
“I think you will find a difference in the facts as alleged by Officer Quaranta and the facts as substantiated by the Middletown Police Department command staff,” General Counsel Brigham Smith said.
Jim O’Neill, a spokesman for the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, confirmed that the commission has received Quaranta’s complaint.
O’Neill said the commission attempts to settle every complaint by bringing both sides together for mediation to resolve issues.
“We’ve taken a much more aggressive approach to try to resolve cases earlier,” he said.
He said that although he was not speaking about Quaranta’s individual case, many such cases are dealt with within three months of their filing, he said. When cases cannot be settled after extensive review, the commission releases jurisdiction so that a lawsuit can be filed.
Quaranta said she would like to go back to work as a patrol officer. Her positive interactions with the public led her to think her gender identity would not be a problem as a police officer, she said. She said she envisioned herself becoming a role model to other people struggling with their gender identity.
“We were on a pretty good roll, me and the public,” she said. “It was just amazing. We proved it could work.”
Officer Anthony Gennaro, police union president, said the union has been participating in meetings between Quaranta, the city and the police department administration. He said he has been trying to find middle ground with dress code issues so Quaranta can feel welcome in the department.
“From the moment she came out until now, the union has always supported her,” Gennaro said. “I give her a lot of credit for coming out and being who she is. I know it’s been difficult for her, but when issues have come up we’ve been trying to deal with them.”
Gennaro acknowledged that Quaranta’s transition has been difficult for other officers to understand and embrace, but pledged continued union support to make sure officers work well together and respect each other at all times.
“I’m confident that even though it’s a work in progress, hopefully good changes will come from this,” he said.