ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis jury has rejected a high-ranking St. Louis police officer’s claim of gender bias in the 2015 promotion of a male colleague to deputy chief.
The jury on Thursday found in favor of the city and former Police Chief Sam Dotson in Lt. Col. Rochelle Jones’ August 2016 lawsuit alleging gender discrimination in the promotion of Ronnie Robinson to lieutenant colonel, the second-highest rank in the department.
Jones was a major at the time.
“He picked a man to be elevated to this men’s club,” Jones’ lawyer J.C. Pleban said of Dotson during closing arguments Thursday.
Nancy Kistler, the deputy city counselor representing the city and Dotson at this week’s trial, argued that there was no evidence of gender bias and that Dotson promoted Robinson because he was the strongest candidate. She said Dotson also had a record of promoting women.
“Sam put women in high-profile positions,” Kistler said. “No other female officer came in and said, ‘Me too.’ This is the Sam Dotson we’re talking about. The Sam Dotson who promoted women when it made sense.”
The lawsuit stems from Dotson’s September 2015 promotion of Ronnie Robinson from a pool of three candidates. The two others were Jones and Michael Caruso, who sued the department alleging racial discrimination.
Jones’ suit alleged she didn’t get the promotion because she is a woman. Caruso claimed he was passed over for because he is white.
Caruso has been with the department since 1976. Jones started in 1983. And Robinson was hired in 1990.
At trial this week, lawyers for Jones said she was more qualified than Robinson because she had a master’s degree, had more experience and performed better on promotional exams.
In Caruso’s suit, he claimed he scored higher than Robinson and Jones on a written competency exam and has degrees that Robinson lacked.
After Dotson abruptly retired on Mayor Lyda Krewson’s first day in office in 2017, Jones was promoted to lieutenant colonel and became the department’s first black woman to attain the rank. Caruso also rose to lieutenant colonel and later settled his federal lawsuit with the city for $300,000 plus adjusted pension contributions.
Dotson was in Circuit Judge Timothy Boyer’s courtroom this week for the trial. He is now an assistant police chief for Amtrak in the Washington, D.C., area. He declined comment.
Deputy City Counselor Michael Garvin said Thursday that he was pleased with the verdict.
“A white person sued us. An African-American female sued us. And all alleged discrimination,” Garvin said. “You’d have to believe that the police chief discriminated against all human beings. It’s illogical to think that.”
Jones and Pleban said they plan to appeal the lawsuit.
“I’m just not going to let them push me around or push me out,” Jones said after Thursday’s verdict. “I’m still standing.”
Christine Byers of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
Editor's note: This version replaces an earlier version that incorrectly identified Nancy Kistler's title in the 5th paragraph.