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Southampton police force gets first female lieutenant

Southampton Town Police Lt. Susan Ralph, center, is

Southampton Town Police Lt. Susan Ralph, center, is congratulated by fellow officers after a promotion ceremony at a Southampton Town Board meeting in Southampton, March 24, 2015. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Southampton officials have promoted the first woman to the rank of lieutenant in the police department, weeks after she filed a federal lawsuit alleging a culture of gender discrimination on the force.

Susan Ralph was among two sergeants sworn in as lieutenants at a town board meeting Tuesday evening, as the police chief and other officers stood and looked on.

Ralph, a 13-year veteran and Southampton's 2005 officer of the year, filed a lawsuit on Feb. 13 alleging that a pattern of discrimination in the East End's largest police force prevented women from reaching its highest ranks.

Eight of the department's roughly 100 officers are women, the suit said.

Reached Wednesday, Ralph referred comment to her lawyer. Her Melville-based attorney, Peter Famighetti, said the promotion is "well-deserved and long overdue" but that the litigation would continue.

The lawsuit contained claims beyond gender discrimination, including a charge that officers and supervisors retaliated against Ralph after her 2012 testimony against a fellow sergeant in Suffolk County probes of misconduct on the Southampton force.

Ralph alleges she was ostracized at work and stripped of several assignments, her office and her police vehicle.

At the meeting, Chief Robert Pearce, who is named in the suit, praised Ralph and the other new lieutenant, Todd Spencer, an 18-year veteran of the force and Southampton's 2003 officer of the year.

"I know both Sgt. Ralph -- Lt. Ralph now -- and Lt. Spencer are dedicated professionals who motivate and lead by example," Pearce said. "And I am confident they will answer the challenge of their new position of lieutenant with the Southampton Town Police Department."

After the ceremony, Ralph smiled and exchanged handshakes with Pearce and other officers.

Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said Ralph's promotion was not a result of her lawsuit, but of her high score on a fall civil service exam.

"We had two positions to fill and, by civil service protocol, we had to pick from among the top three," Throne-Holst said Wednesday. "Susan Ralph was number two on the list, so she was one of the obvious picks."

Throne-Holst said the promotions were spurred by a consultant's report last year that recommended enlarging the ranks of supervisors on the force. The promotions double the number of lieutenants from two to four.

Sgt. Lisa Costa, the only other female supervisor on the Southampton force, also filed a lawsuit last year alleging gender discrimination. Neither she nor her attorney could be reached Wednesday for comment.

In all, two lieutenants, two sergeants and three new officers were sworn in Tuesday.

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