Gay forensic scientist sues Philly police department

A ballistics computer at the Philadelphia Police Forensics Lab Photo: Philadelphia Police Department

David Hawkins, an openly-gay forensic scientist employed by the Philadelphia Police Department, recently filed a federal antibias lawsuit against the department.

According to the 10-page lawsuit, filed last month in the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, a “homophobic environment” exists at the police department due to unlawful acts of discrimination.

“Since beginning his employment in 2008, [Hawkins], who is openly gay, has been harassed by his co-workers on a daily basis. [Hawkins] has overheard his co-workers use the term ‘faggot’ and has heard them say ‘no homo’ loud enough that he could hear it in his office area,” according to the federal lawsuit.

In September 2012, Hawkins’ co-workers displayed a hand-drawn picture of  “American Idol” contestant, Sanjaya Malakar. The drawing allegedly was meant to mock and embarrass Hawkins. “‘Sanjaya’ is an offensive term used to refer to an effeminate, weak and/or cowardly man,” the lawsuit states.

Additionally, co-workers laugh at Hawkins during staff meetings and when he walks by them in the workplace, according to the lawsuit.

When a supervisor hears Hawkins’ voice in her work area, “she begins speaking in an effeminate voice to comment on the conversation [Hawkins] is having. [Hawkins’] treatment at work has caused him severe stress, anxiety and humiliation,” the lawsuit alleges.

Hawkins has reported the alleged mistreatment to upper management on multiple occasions, to no avail. His most recent complaint was lodged on April 23, 2019, according to the lawsuit.

In retaliation for his complaints, a supervisor has targeted Hawkins for harassment. For example, on Oct. 23, 2019, during a morning staff meeting, the supervisor stated at the end of the meeting that it was “National Slap Your Irritating Coworker” day.

A laboratory manager smiled at Hawkins after it was said and everyone in the meeting laughed. “This was extremely awkward and upsetting for [Hawkins],” according to the lawsuit.

On Nov. 1, 2019, the supervisor said “faggot” while walking past Hawkins. On March 2, 2020, in a meeting with management and his union, Hawkins was informed that all of his prior complaints were unfounded and based on his “perception,” according to the lawsuit.

Hawkins continues to endure “substantial” stress and anxiety due to the ongoing harassment. “[Hawkins’] supervisors and co-workers have continued to treat him in a hostile manner and harass him,” the lawsuit states.

Hawkins’ lawsuit alleges workplace bias due to his sexual orientation, in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

In an eight-page reply brief filed April 13, city attorneys denied any wrongdoing on the part of the Philadelphia Police Department and requested that Hawkins’ lawsuit be dismissed.

Brian R. Mildenberg, an attorney for Hawkins, said Hawkins continues to go to work during the pendency of the litigation. “My client is holding up under difficult circumstances because he has to go to work every single day and be involved in a federal lawsuit against the people he’s working with,” Mildenberg told PGN. “On top of that, he works for the police department, so it can be scary to be involved in legal actions against them.”

The Philadelphia Police Department declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

Hawkins is seeking an unspecified amount in damages along with reasonable attorney fees. The case has been referred to U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas J. Rueter. A settlement conference was held at 10 a.m. April 20, but neither side is able to discuss what occurred. A second settlement conference will be held at 2 p.m. May 1 with Judge Rueter. 

If the case cannot be settled, a jury trial has been requested, according to court records.

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.