Mt. Lebanon will pay a former rookie police officer a $175,000 judgment to end her discrimination claim that a supervisor poked fun at her ethnicity and told her that women shouldn’t be cops.
The judgment was entered last month in U.S. District Court, where Manja Rovcanin, a 41-year-old Bosnian immigrant, brought her complaint last year after being fired in 2021.
Mt. Lebanon made an offer of judgment while the case was still in discovery and agreed to pay the amount without a trial. Rovcanin’s lawyer, Nikki Lykos, said her client will not be returning to the Mt. Lebanon police force.
Rovcanin said in an emailed statement that she had been excited to become a cop in the community where she lives, “but it quickly became apparent that at least some of the officers were not accepting of me, a female who doesn’t fit the typical mold of a Mt. Lebanon police officer.”
She said that while she continues to deal with the emotional impact of having her career “stripped away” by discrimination, “it is my hope that my case will at the very least prompt some changes in the department for future female officers.”
In her suit, she said her supervisor, Lt. Josh Chops, made sport of her Bosnian heritage and made comments suggesting that women shouldn’t be cops during her training. He referred to her as a “Mt. Lebanon mom” who shouldn’t be on the force, according to her suit.
The township fired her in December 2021, ostensibly because she didn’t measure up to police department standards, but she said the real reason was her sex and ethnic background.
She had been hired provisionally in December 2020 and started training, graduating from the police academy the following month. She started working in June 2021.
Chops was her trainer. He called her “Helga” and “Olga” in crude reference to her Bosnian heritage and implied that she shouldn’t be a cop because she’s a woman, she said.
He made similar comments about another female cop, according to the complaint.
Rovcanin said she completed gun training successfully but Chops didn’t think so and put her on a 10-day leave as part of a corrective action in July 2021.
She said she told a township commissioner about Chops and said the police chief, Aaron Lauth, came to her house to give her extra ammunition so she could practice shooting on leave.
She said the chief told her not to worry and that she’d be back working soon. The chief also put her in touch with a state police gun instructor so she could train.
Rovcanin stayed on leave for five months. She said the township did nothing during that time to address her complaints about Chops. She was then fired on Dec. 20, 2021.
She said the township could not explain what standards she didn’t meet. The suit brought claims against the township for sex discrimination and retaliation.
“My client spoke up against illegal conduct and was terminated,” Lykos said in an email. “I hope that by advocating for individuals like Ms. Rovcanin, we can educate employers and continue to see progress toward discrimination-free workplaces.”