After nearly seven years as a police officer in northern California, Janelle Perez was no stranger to a courtroom. But she never imagined that she would find herself in one as a plaintiff, suing her former employer, the Roseville Police Department. In her lawsuit, Janelle cited gender discrimination and a right to privacy when she was fired for an off-duty relationship with a coworker while separated. In an assertion denied by her employer, and a loss only she endured, despite winning a ruling in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Janelle faced defeat when the ruling was suspiciously overturned.
In her new book, The Moral Police, Janelle shares the story of her seven-year fight for justice in the biggest betrayal of her life. Providing an insider’s look at life as a female police officer, Janelle shares what happens when you follow the rules and respect the process in a system that doesn’t respect you.
Drew Appelbaum: Hey listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and I’m excited to be here today with Janelle Perez, author of The Moral Police: Surviving Discrimination in Law Enforcement and Injustice in the Courts. Janelle, thank you for joining, welcome to the Author Hour podcast.
Janelle Perez: Thank you so much for having me.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off, can you give us a rundown of your professional background?
Janelle Perez: Sure, professionally, I have spent most of my time in law enforcement as a police officer, almost seven years. I grew up and played competitive tennis. So, my first job professionally was as a professional tennis instructor. Between that and law enforcement, that has been mostly what I focused on.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, usually I have three or four more questions to set up about the book and the writing story, but I found your story so fascinating and furious at the same time that I’d love to hear an overview of it in your own words before we really dig into the detail. Janelle, if you would, can you tell us your story?
Janelle Perez: Sure, it’s so hard for me to share my story with just a snippet but I’ll do my best.
Drew Appelbaum: Yeah.
Janelle Perez: I was a police officer in the Bay Area near San Francisco for six years, and then I went on to take a slight break when I had children. Then I moved on to a new police department called the Roseville Police Department, which is outside of Sacramento. While I was there, I was married but later separated and started dating a coworker.
That relationship became the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation because allegations were made that things inappropriate may be happening on duty. Later, it was discovered nothing was happening inappropriately on duty, but I was terminated from my job after being there for eight months. The male officer that I was seeing was not.
So, my book takes you through what happened in that eight-month period of time and gives you a little bit of background on my life prior. I felt that I was terminated due to a discriminatory reason and so I did file a lawsuit and it walks you through what happened with that lawsuit.
That’s, in a nutshell, what the book is about.
A Story That Needs to Be Told
Drew Appelbaum: Now, why was now the time to write this book?
Janelle Perez: That’s such a hard question for me because, really, I feel like the time was when it happened. But I respected the court process and I let everything play out. That was a seven-year process in the court system.
I really wanted to speak about it earlier, but I decided to respect the process so I’m speaking about it now because the court case is over. Everything has wrapped up on that end, so now is the time for me to share my perspective.
Drew Appelbaum: When you were writing the book, did you have any learnings or breakthroughs because I know you did a lot of research and sometimes it comes from the introspective journey. Also, you did some really good detective and police work.
Janelle Perez: I did do some police work and I included a lot of quotes from depositions. So, I was able to put some pieces of the puzzle together that way. I did learn a lot about what happened to me, but also about myself. In the process, there was a lot of self-discovery and reflection in this whole entire process, so it’s been very therapeutic for me.
Drew Appelbaum: What was that emotional toll-like, reading over these memos and depositions?
Janelle Perez: So hard. It was so, so hard to go through everything and replay what went wrong–how I could have done something differently. It was very challenging. I mean, it was a very emotional journey having to relive the experience more than one time. It was one of the many challenges I faced.
Drew Appelbaum: Did you write this book with somebody in mind? Who you were writing it for?
Janelle Perez: There are really several people that I wrote it for. One, for myself. It was definitely a way that I needed to stand up for myself and share my story. It was very important to me.
I wanted to put this story out there and I hate to have this specific category of people, but I was a woman that was discriminated against. I hope to share my story with other women who find themselves in similarly situated positions, but not only that, I also feel that it’s important for leaders, men or women, supervisors, or managers, to hear my story and see how they can change things and what they can do differently if they see something like this happening.
I don’t think that my story is necessarily only for women that are discriminated against. It could be for somebody younger that’s up and coming in a career and things to look out for. I’m hoping that it reaches lots of people.
Drew Appelbaum: How early on did you see the favoritism happening in your department?
Janelle Perez: I think when I first realized something was off was when I was forced to read a book that no other officers that came on at the same time as me, had to read. That’s when I knew something was amiss. So, early on.
Drew Appelbaum: Do you think this is a systemic problem in most police departments or just the one you were working in outside of Sacramento?
Janelle Perez: You know, it’s hard for me to speak to that because I’d only worked at one other agency, previously. I do think that women in general in law enforcement are a minority. And I think because of that reason, there are going to continue to be patterns, discrimination that you can see, against women because there are so few women in law enforcement.
Drew Appelbaum: Yeah, talk to us about the ramifications or just the differences when women decide to speak up versus when men speak up in the workplace?
Janelle Perez: Well, I can speak to my own experience there. I had a very specific example in my book of what happened when I spoke up and stood up for myself, versus when the male that I was dating spoke up for himself. It was two totally different approaches and two totally different outcomes.
So, from my personal experience, I didn’t want to be judged or viewed as a complainer. But I think that is what you fear when you speak up as a woman, that you are going to be viewed as someone who complains, is a problem, a thorn in their side, versus when men speak, from what I have seen, it’s, “They were curious, they had questions.” It is viewed in a different way. From my personal experience, it is hard to speak up as a woman because you are scared of the repercussions.
Drew Appelbaum: Now there were so many highs and lows throughout your lawsuit. First, you lost in a summary judgment. Then you won in Appeal’s Court and then you lost in that same court again. What kept you going throughout all of this and can you talk about those highs and lows?
Janelle Perez: Yeah, it was quite the rollercoaster. I was totally disappointed, I don’t even know the right word to use when I lost on a summary judgment because everything was just so crystal clear in my eyes. Then, when I won part of the lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, I just felt so validated like, “Okay, I am not crazy. I really suffered discrimination, and this deserves to be heard.” So, I was really looking forward to that process.
It was very bizarre to me why there was such a long hold up and it didn’t get to go back to the district court. Then when one of the initial judges died on the Ninth Circuit panel and I found out later that it had been reversed, I felt absolutely devastated. I still, to this day, don’t understand how they got away with doing that. We didn’t have an en banc hearing or anything, and they just decided to rehear the case, which seemed totally unfair.
So, I definitely had the highest of highs and then the lowest of lows when I lost. It was a rollercoaster, to say the least.
Drew Appelbaum: Is that a normal occurrence where they’ll revisit a case like that so soon?
Janelle Perez: I’m not so well versed in law and the justice system. I obviously have very personal feelings in my case and that there was no justice in that justice system. You know, I was talking with someone who happened to be a lawyer and she knew my story, but I wasn’t talking to her because of it. She told me that she had never heard of such a thing, that the Court of Appeals could just decide, after it’s been decided and I won, to re-hear something.
My decision was decided and published and that should have stood. The only thing that in my eyes should have changed was an en banc ruling, which didn’t happen. So, after speaking with this person, she asked other people in her office and she said no one had ever heard of it. So, I have no idea if this has happened before or not.
Drew Appelbaum: You mentioned at the beginning of your book when women are discriminated against and they bring these suits, a lot of them lose. So, why do you feel like these cases go to court and they don’t get the justice that women are seeking, and what do you think needs to change?
Janelle Perez: That is a very hard question to answer. I think that there needs to be more representation and diversity across the board–in the court system, everywhere. And I think what happens or what needs to happen is that collectively, there needs to be women that stand up for themselves because I really truly believe, I am one instance of what I perceived to be discrimination against me. But I know that there are other people out there.
I know this because people have shared their stories with me after hearing mine. They didn’t take theirs to court. They didn’t do these things, for various reasons and it is understandable why they didn’t. But I think women need to find that courage to stand up for themselves because I really believe that it is going to take a lot of us to stand up against injustice in order to change things.
Drew Appelbaum: Are you working towards any changes now? What is the stage of your lawsuit now? And have you seen any changes on the horizon since this all started seven years ago?
Janelle Perez: Well, my lawsuit is over. We did an en banc request after that suspicious overturning of my case. But that was quickly dismissed. So, my only other option at that point was to go to the Supreme Court, which my lawyer didn’t recommend at the time. The case is over and that’s why I decided to go this route and write my story and share now because I feel like I was shut down for so long and I needed to use my voice for the greater good.
Drew Appelbaum: So, what’s next for you now Janelle?
Inspiration and Hope
Janelle Perez: I am so excited to share my story. It’s been, obviously, years in the making. It’s been very scary to put everything out there, but this book is my truth. I think it is so important to share and I hope it gives other people the courage to stand up for themselves or even for other people to do what is right and to stand up for people. I am hoping that my story and sharing it is going to give me the opportunity to hear other people’s stories and give them inspiration and hope.
Drew Appelbaum: Yeah, Janelle writing a book especially like this one, which is so real and will help a lot of people, especially those who are in your situation, is no small feat. So, congratulations.
Janelle Perez: Thank you.
Drew Appelbaum: I have one last question, I will put you in the hot seat–if readers could take away only one thing from the book, what would you want it to be?
Janelle Perez: Oh my gosh, just one thing.
Drew Appelbaum: Just one thing.
Janelle Perez: Got to be sure.
Drew Appelbaum: Everybody cheats and says multiple things.
Janelle Perez: I would totally cheat right now and say multiple things. But I hope if I can get one thing across it’s having the courage and the strength to stand up for yourself. It is very hard to do, especially when you are against all odds. But I hope that I get that across to people.
If I could do one more thing, I think it is really important for people to read the story and know that people should be entitled to live their lives the way they want to. I think there is so much judgment in this world and I think we need to do a better job of working on that and not judging people based on decisions they make in their private lives.
Drew Appelbaum: Yeah, well said. Janelle, this has been a pleasure and I am really excited for people to check out this book. Everyone, the book is called, The Moral Police, and you can find it on Amazon. Janelle besides checking out the book, where can people find you?
Janelle Perez: Well, I have an Instagram page @janelleperezofficial and I do post updates on my book there so that would probably be the best way. And I just set up a LinkedIn, so I am on there too.
Drew Appelbaum: Cool, awesome. Janelle, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Janelle Perez: Thank you for having me.