The Antioch Police Department refused to promote Dawn Geraty to Sergeant because she was a woman. Eight years later, she made history.
Dawn was the first female police officer hired by the police department and she was one of its best officers. They called her the “Wolverine” based on her tenacious police work. Nevertheless, Dawn kept getting passed over for leadership positions at the police department.
In 2006, Dawn earned a top score on the Sergeant’s exam. The Sergeant position is one of the most important positions in a police department. But the Chief of Police told Dawn that working as a Sergeant wouldn’t be good for her “family life.” The Chief of Police wanted his own guys in leadership positions, and Dawn was not a guy.
The Chief of Police tried to appease Dawn by offering to let her wear a gold badge, one that looked just like the type of badge worn by a Sergeant. Dawn was not interested in a symbolic gold badge. Dawn wanted a fair shot to compete for a Sergeant position.
We filed a lawsuit for sex discrimination alleging the police department refused to promote Dawn because she is a woman. During the trial, I asked Dawn why she brought the case. Here’s what she said:
“I tell my daughter she can do anything, but when I go to work, I know there are people out there that aren’t looking at your skills, how good you are in school, how good your ability is. There are still people out there that look at you just as a female, a female that they think should step aside and let the men do the work. My parents raised us to stand up for yourself and stand up for others. That’s what I’m doing here. I’m very proud of what we did, to stand up for what’s right against who is wrong. I’ll never turn back on that. No matter what the decision is.”
The jury returned verdicts for Dawn on every claim.
After the trial, the police department still refused to promote Dawn to Sergeant.
The police department wanted to have hearings about whether Dawn should be promoted to Sergeant after she won her case. Dawn’s male co-workers made the long trip from Main Street in Antioch to 219 S. Dearborn Street in Chicago to oppose her promotion. At the hearings, they said that promoting Dawn to Sergeant because she won her case would harm the police department and was unfair to them. They claimed Dawn would never truly be respected if the court promoted her.
Despite everything that had happened, the police department still wanted Dawn to step aside.
During the hearings, Dawn listened carefully to every word they said. After their testimony, Dawn stood up, walked over to the witness stand and she shook hands with the witnesses who testified against her. After the second one, she explained why: “They’re only doing what they think they have to do.”
Dawn understood them better than me.
Shortly after the hearings concluded, the court entered an order requiring the police department to promote Dawn.
Days later, we were at Village Hall filled with people who wanted to witness Dawn get her Sergeant stripes.
At an otherwise ordinary board meeting, Dawn became the first woman in the history of the police department to be a Sergeant. Afterwards, the new Chief of Police walked over and shook my hand.
Dawn eventually retired, but she continued to actively support her fellow officers at the police department. The Wolverine was always looking for ways to help solve the next case.
I was just thinking about how we would celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Dawn’s win when the news arrived that she had passed away.
Dawn earned and deserved more time enjoying a happy sunny retirement with her amazing family. Dawn dedicated her career to law enforcement, but her family was always what was most important to her.
The Antioch Police Department is a better police department today because of Dawn.
I was happy reading the police department’s social media post honoring Dawn’s life and her promotion. It’s one of the police department’s most popular posts. Dawn would have enjoyed reading about how the community she loved so much loved her right back.