Orlando police officer sues city for lost wages, alleged harassment

14-year veteran says women on limited duty face threats of termination

By Mike Holfeld - Investigative Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Dolores Bracero is at the center of a lawsuit against the city of Orlando  to expose what she has termed the Orlando Police Department's dirty secret.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 23, alleges that the Orlando Police Department engages in a "systematic pattern of harassment" against disabled female police officers on limited duty including: "shift changes, harassment, and frivolous discipline."

Bracero has worked on the police force since 2005 and has always served in the field.

However, during a training exercise to handcuff suspects, referred to as "wrist compliance," Bracero said her training officer pulled her wrist back too far causing an injury. It's been four years since the injury.

"I gave pretty much my whole life to OPD and when OPD was supposed to stand up for me they threw me out," Bracero said.

Medical records obtained by WKMG News 6 show she was diagnosed with a closed forced flexion injury of the right wrist. She underwent surgery but the pain and swelling has continued for the last four years.

A medical assessment issued in 2018 found Bracero's functional results to be limited including her finger dexterity on the injured hand, which is the hand she would use to shoot her weapon.

On May 31, Bracero was told she could no longer continue in a limited duty position and was given 3 days to apply for full-time duty. She refused due to her physical limitations.

Bracero applied for disability benefits, which were denied, and she was terminated.

OPD sighted findings of Dr. Jerry Rubin, who found Bracero "was not totally disabled" and "capable of returning to work full duty with no restrictions."

OPD has declined to address the specific lawsuit but a spokesman issued this statement:

"On average, 25-30 officers a month are in limited duty positions and not on the streets patrolling. The phase out of the permanent limited duty position will help us further meet these demands and ensure that as many officers as possible are on the streets patrolling."

News 6  has confirmed at least one other female officer currently on limited duty with OPD has been advised her "limited duty assignment" will no longer be available as of Sept. 30.

She will be given a chance to reapply for full-time duty or a medical disability pension.

Bracero's lawyer, Tampa attorney Jeff Appel, said the decision to eliminate the positions violates the American with Disabilities Act.

"I'm speechless and sorry for the officers that are caught up in this plight," Appel said. "Under the Americans with Disabilities Act an employer is supposed to make reasonable accommodations (for injured employees)."

Appel currently represents Bracero and several other female officers poised to take legal action against the city.

OPD officials said officers who are "currently in these permanent limited duty positions and who are disabled are now going through the medical disability pension process and are scheduled to come before the Pension Board at the Sept.12."

On Wednesday, Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon issued a statement.

The limited duty position program was administered in a nondiscriminatory fashion. I am unaware of any harassment and in fact the EEOC investigated these claims and found no cause.

Furthermore, I will not tolerate any type of harassment within the Orlando Police Department.

One of the core values of the Orlando Police Department is to ensure that everyone who works here is treated with dignity and respected in the workplace and I will not tolerate harassment.

Our Department has a tradition of taking care of our officers when they are affected by injury, or when they have a personal need and supporting our officers remains one of my top priorities.
 

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