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Campus officer, fired for harassment, alleges discrimination

Sam Klein | Senior Photo Editor
Sam Klein | Senior Photo Editor

Todd Ladson had worked for the University Police Department for 24 years before he was fired last September for allegedly making sexual comments about a female co-worker.

Ladson claims he was wrongly accused of creating a “sexually hostile work environment.” A year after losing his job, he is suing the University for age and racial discrimination, asking for $1 million to make up for lost pay and the emotional distress he suffered.

The University fired Ladson after Tiffany Justice, another UPD officer, reported three instances of sexual harassment to GW’s human resources office. Other officers had said they overheard Ladson making inappropriate comments about Justice, according to D.C. Superior Court documents.

The case is one of at least five complaints brought against UPD for discrimination in the last four years.

Ladson, a 53-year-old black man, called the allegations against him “untrue” in an interview. He plans to argue in court that other officers, who were white and younger than him, made more “egregious” comments but were only suspended for up to five days.

“Today, I don’t know why. I’m puzzled by that and deeply hurt,” Ladson said. “My reputation is ruined, that’s all I care about. My reputation is ruined. I miss the job, I miss the environment. I would have retired from there.”

Ladson was placed on unpaid suspension about five months before he was fired. Now, he works two jobs and is living off his savings.

Before he was fired, Ladson sat before a panel of six faculty members and administrators for a hearing about the allegations of sexual harassment. UPD Chief Kevin Hay attended the hearing, and the panel decided that the allegations were true, according to court documents.

Over the more than two decades he spent at GW, Ladson said he trained at least 80 percent of the department and received outstanding performance evaluations.

“Another thing that’s hurting me right now, September 25 would be 25 years I’ve been here,” he said. “That would be a real accomplishment for me, and now I’m not going to get it.”

Ladson also trained Justice, though he said he had not had frequent contact with her in recent years.

UPD officers are required to take sexual harassment classes each year, Ladson said. The classes also included an online quiz, which he said most officers passed.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar declined to comment on behalf of UPD Chief Kevin Hay, citing the University’s policy not to comment on pending litigation. Hay has declined repeated requests for an interview. Justice did not return several requests for comment.

Two years ago, former UPD officer Aaron Johnson accused GW of retaliation after he complained about a hostile work environment and was fired.

Last spring, former UPD officer Linda Queen filed a charge for gender-based discrimination against GW after two superior officers allegedly sexually harassed her.

When Queen worked for the University in April 2013, Ladson had allegedly told Queen that she and Justice “mess around.” Queen then told Justice what she had heard, according to the documents.

Queen’s case against GW and her two supervisors, which the D.C. Office of Human Rights is now reviewing, will go to court “within the next few months,” her attorney Ari Wilkenfeld said.

Wilkenfeld said while he does not know the specifics of Ladson’s case, the string of complaints against UPD reflect widespread issues in the department.

“The University has a fairly bad track record in handling discrimination and civil rights claims, and I think their attitude of ‘We’re going to fight every claim’ has a trickle down effect on the police department,” he said.

Wilkenfeld, who is also representing Johnson, has worked on a number of cases against GW.

“I would find it hard to believe that your average UPD has the kinds of problems that GW has,” Wilkenfeld said. “This is a department with a serious problem, and they don’t appear terribly interested in fixing it.”

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