ST. LOUIS • The legal battle over a high-ranking city police department promotion just got more crowded and complicated.
Maj. Rochelle Jones filed suit Tuesday in St. Louis Circuit Court against Police Chief Sam Dotson and the department, alleging gender bias in the promotion of Ronnie Robinson to lieutenant colonel, the second-highest rank in the department. Last week, Maj. Michael Caruso alleged in court that he was a victim of racial discrimination in Robinson’s promotion.
Caruso is white, Robinson and Jones are black, and all three sought the same promotion. Robinson got the job last September and serves as a deputy chief in charge of the department’s Community Affairs Division.
Robinson is one of four men with the rank of lieutenant colonel, three of whom are white.
Assistant Chief Lawrence O’Toole also has the rank of lieutenant colonel. The other three, including Robinson, are deputy chiefs.
Jones joined the police force in 1983 and was promoted to major in 2013. She is deputy commander of the bureau of operations, which includes internal affairs, communications and other support units.
In an interview Tuesday, Jones said she is better qualified and has more experience than Robinson. She also said the presence of four men as lieutenant colonels “doesn’t respect the community of St. Louis.”
“I am hoping to be promoted to lieutenant colonel, not only because of my pain, suffering and humiliation, but for future (female) officers who want to be promoted,” she said. “I am hoping they don’t have to go through this.”
Her lawsuit alleges Robinson was promoted because of his gender. She seeks at least $25,000 in damages, a standard reference in circuit court.
Caruso, for his part, alleged in a lawsuit filed Aug. 17 in U.S. District Court that Robinson prevailed because of his race. Caruso also said he had more formal education and time of service than Robinson, and said he learned after the promotion that he also had the highest score on the written promotion exam.
Caruso joined the force in 1976, Robinson in 1990. Caruso commands the police unit at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, which the city owns.
A spokeswoman for Dotson said the department, in promoting Robinson, “followed the civil-service processes outlined by the personnel division of the city of St. Louis to ensure fairness.” The spokeswoman said the department cannot comment on the lawsuit, but noted the same law firm is representing Caruso and Jones.
That is the firm of Chet Pleban, a veteran of lawsuits involving police officers and departments. J.C. Pleban, his son and a member of the firm, spoke to reporters Tuesday with Jones.
Jones said she did not consider herself in competition with Caruso. J.C. Pleban said the lawsuits have separate claims, and said one way the department could resolve both issues is to promote Caruso and Jones.
“We can represent both because neither got a fair shake,” he said. “Jones didn’t get promoted because she is a woman. Caruso didn’t get promoted because he is Caucasian.”
The department’s command structure has changed over the years. The Jones lawsuit notes that the department reduced the number of lieutenant colonels in a recent reorganization, then added the fourth in July 2015. That is the position for which Robinson, Caruso and Jones competed.
Jones’ lawsuit also says that Antoinette “Toni” Filla, who retired in 2011, remains the only female officer in the department to serve as a lieutenant colonel. Filla was promoted in 2008.