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Originally published Saturday, November 17, 2012 at 12:37 PM

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Gig Harbor's first woman police sergeant sues

The first woman promoted to sergeant in the Gig Harbor Police Department has filed a claim alleging harassment and sexism.

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The first woman promoted to sergeant in the Gig Harbor Police Department has filed a claim alleging harassment and sexism.

Sgt. Sharon Cox, one of two women officers in the 16-member department, is seeking a maximum of $5 million in her claim, The News Tribune reported

The claim is the latest acrimonious episode in Cox's tenure at the department.

The guild recently held a vote of no-confidence concerning Cox, related to a shooting Aug. 11 at a Key Peninsula grocery store in which one man was killed. The guild cited "cowardice" in their vote.

Among those named in Cox's claim is the head of the union, Dan Welch. The claim says Welch accessed Cox's private employment file, including pre-employment background documents.

Depending on the city's decision, Cox's attorney, Julie Kays, might file a lawsuit by the end of next week.

"The chief and the management there aren't standing up to Welch, and therefore they're letting this intimidation and bullying go on," Kays said. "They have got to know that the hostile work environment that is created by this guy is against the law, and that's what our lawsuit will seek to prove."

Asked about the claim, Welch said he was under orders from the city not to comment.

According to the claim, when the police department hired Cox in 2007, a lieutenant told her the department hadn't "had good luck with hiring women." Last year, when Cox became the first woman in the department promoted to sergeant, Davis told her "she should expect to be given a hard time by the other officers," the claim states.

Male officers under Cox gave her "flak and lip" when she questioned or corrected them, such as about paperwork, Kays said. Sometimes they circumvented her by taking issues to a lieutenant, and made allegations about her being a deficient supervisor, Kays added.

"Not only are they being insubordinate when she's correcting them in her capacity as a supervisor, but it's like they're following her around looking for any perceived errors she may make, and then they make a mountain out of a molehill," the attorney said.

Kays contends some of the trouble Cox has encountered is because Welch was passed over when Cox was promoted.

"He's basically picking on her because she's a woman, and quite frankly she beat him out for the job and he can't handle it," Kays said.

Davis referred comment on the claim to the attorney representing the department.

"I just don't comment on pending claims," said the attorney, Elizabeth McIntyre.

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