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Longtime police officers accuse Overland Park of race, gender and age discrimination

Robert A. Cronkleton
·2 min read

Two longtime police officers have sued the city of Overland Park, alleging the police department discriminated against them based on their race, age and gender when the two women were passed over for promotions.

The lawsuit originally was filed by Capt. Kathleen Morgan and Sgt. Tirsa Otero in Johnson County District Court. Overland Park, however, recently moved the case to U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas, because the discrimination allegations were made under federal law, according to court documents.

Morgan, who is 57 years old, and Otero, who is 52, have a combined 44 years of experience with the department. Morgan has served the department for 25 years, with more than eight years as a captain. Otero has been with the department for 19 years, with more than eight years as a sergeant.

In response to The Star seeking comment from both Overland Park police and the city, police spokesman Officer John Lace said: “At this time we cannot comment on an ongoing lawsuit.”

Both Morgan and Otero alleged that they have applied for promotions multiple times and were passed over in favor of younger, less experienced male applicants.

Morgan contended that she has applied for the rank of police major on multiple occasions, but has not been offered the position despite meeting all the necessary qualifications, according to the suit.

When she requested feedback, she was informed that the police department “want(s) someone who’s going to be here for a while” and successful applicants “gotta have potential,” which Morgan contended is a form of unlawful age discrimination.

Overland Park promoted a younger, less qualified male applicant to fill the position, she said.

In addition to age and gender discrimination, Morgan contended that Overland Park retaliated against her when she registered her discrimination concerns with the city and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

She was notified that she and a less-qualified colleague would be granted the promotion to major on a three-month “trial period.” Morgan said she’s unaware of any other “trial periods” being used to fill any other vacancy in the command staff. The denial of an actual promotional opportunity is a form of unlawful retaliation, she contended.

Otero, who is of Puerto Rican descent, alleged that she has applied for promotion to captain multiple times, including twice in 2020, but the positions were filled with younger, less qualified white men, according to the suit.

She alleged that Overland Park retaliated against her after she filed her concerns of discriminatory treatment with the police department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Her denial of promotion for the second time last year “was a direct result of her protected expressions of concern,” she contended.

Morgan and Otero each seek in excess of $75,000 in damages as well as an order instating them to the position of major and captain within the police department.