Trial pitting Bellmorite against U.S. Capitol police begins

‘I have the truth on my side’

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Nearly two years after she filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Capitol Police, which protect Congress, Bellmorite Chris Sourgoutsis is getting her day in court.

Sourgoutsis, 35, filed the suit after being fired from the police force in 2015 for what she said were minor offenses that male recruits did without penalty. The infractions, which were written up while Sourgoutsis was in training, included wearing an improper uniform, talking on a cell phone during lunch and, on one occasion, sitting down briefly on a low stone wall during a double shift of guarding the Capitol Visitor Center.

Jury selection began Monday at U.S. District Court in Washington. U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is presiding over the case.

“The Capitol Police has been an agency since 1828, and has never been to a jury trial before,” Sourgoutsis told the Herald Life as she drove down to D.C. “I have the truth on my side, and I’m ready to express that to the jury and finish this really challenging chapter in my life.”

In court documents, the Capitol Police dispute Sourgoutsis’s claims, including her characterization of meetings with superiors, and say that she took the legal route before exhausting other options.

Capitol Police officials say that all actions “were taken for legitimate, non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory reasons,” according to court documents, adding that Sourgotsis’s claims for damages are “speculative in nature.”

When Sourgoutsis was stripped of her weapon and badge, it came with little explanation or chance of recourse. She said she was denied the right to speak with union representation before her final meeting, and was told that the human resources department was recommending her termination.

Months before she was fired, Sourgoutsis was called to answer questions when another female officer-in-training made a written complaint about a male sergeant named in Sourgoutsis’s suit. According to Sourgoutsis, the sergeant remarked about her appearance, told her she should wear makeup more often and routinely referred to her as “chica.”

She testified that the sergeant’s behavior included “obscene pelvic gestures” that he made in front of her and other recruits, and told the investigator, “This is not a woman-oriented department.”

In 2017, Sourgoutsis’s legal representation requested that the Capitol Police produce a gender breakdown of the force for every year since 1974, but that July, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather ruled that the force only had to supply data for the years 2011-2017.

“Knowing the degree to which women were a minority on the USCP for each of the last 20 years,” Meriweather wrote, “does not make it any more or less probable that Ms. Sourgoutsis’s gender was the true reason for the disciplinary actions taken against her and for her termination.”

Meriweather added, however, that any data that showed a “dearth” of female officers during and close to the time that Sourgoutsis was employed might help her case.

“Everything [in my life] was completely destroyed,” Sourgotsis said, “but now I’ll be able to tell a jury of my peers what they did to me. I’m one day closer.”

Erik Hawkins contributed to this story.