Baltimore Police Commissioner Donald D. Pomerleau, testifying in a sex discrimination suit brought against the Baltimore City police department by four female police officers, declared under oath Tuesday that "all women are little balls of fluff."
Pomerleau, a recent appointee to President-elect Reagan's Administration of Justice Task Force, was being cross-examined in U.S. District Court in a class action suit brought by four women who contend that men with lower test scores were promoted to sergeants ahead of them.
Dressed in civilian clothes, Pomerleau was asked by the plaintiffs' attorney, Kenneth L. Johnson, if he were familiar with an article in a 1970 issue of a Baltimore City police newsletter, which referred to women as the weaker sex, and if he had once publicly said that "women were a ball of fluff." w
Pomerleau, who was editor of the newsletter at the time, answered that the "weaker sex" remark was not his. But he freely owned up to calling women balls of fluff during testimony at a discrimination suit two years ago.
"I certainly did," Pomerleau said Tuesday. Amid a chorus of groans and sighs from the audience in the crowded U.S. District Court -- which included many women police officers -- Pomerleau went on to say:
"All women are little balls of fluff in the eyes of the Creator. It's an endearing term, a term I would use to describe my wife." Pomerleau, at 65 the oldest head of a major police department in the country, has been married for eight years.
"It was astounding," said Johnson, who has represented women and black police officers in a three-part discrimination suit first filed in 1973 against the city's Civil Service Commission, and later expanded to include the police department. "It showed his true feelings, and what women in the police department are up against," Johnson said.
Two parts of the suit were settled last March when U.S. District Court Judge Frank A. Kaufman ruled that promotion tests discriminated against blacks and ordered the tests revised. He also threw out a standard that Pomerleau had instituted in 1973, requiring women police officers to be at least 5 feet 7 inches tall.
At issue in the present case, which was brought by police officers Mary Stout, Sarah Patrick, Margaret J. Holmes and Patricia Loveless, are back pay and promotions. There were two separate promotion lists in 1972 even though men and women took the same exam for pormotion to sergeant. The four women officers, who took the test that year, scored higher than 30 male officers, who nonetheless were promoted while the women were not.
There are now 150 women, including five sergeants, on Baltimore City's 3,000-person police force.
"This whole case is about women not getting a fair shake," Johnson said. "I was amazed that the commissioner continued to harbor such sexist views. His attitude toward women is very important."
Jo-Ann Orlinsky, chairwoman of the Maryland Commission for Women, said: "At least six people grabbed me this morning and said, 'Have you seen this?' I see it as saying that women are inconsequential, feathery, lightheaded and airy. It's sad that a man in his position and in this day and age could make a remark like that."
But the gorge of official Baltimore seems not to have risen very much.
"You can call me a broad or a chick as long as you don't call me something that means I'm not doing a good job," said Rochelle Spector, one of three women on the 190 member Baltimore City Council. "He's a kind human being and I know he has great respect for women. By saying fluff, he didn't say they aren't contributing to the police department. Virgin wool, ball of fluff, immoral majority, it's all buzzy."
Pomerleau, who has been Baltimore's top lawman since 1966, and who once rode a horse through snow drifts to lead police into sections of the city where looters were running amok, declined to comment. But others came to his defense.
"He's a frank man, I don't think he meant anything derogatory about it," said Capt. Elbert Shirey.
"He says things that are original and colorful that could be misinterpreted sometimes," said Dennis Hill, director of public relations for the Baltimore City police, who said he had just one call from a citizen who was unhappy at Pomerleau's remark.
"It's an old remark. I've heard it used several times. It's not done in a mocking way. It's meant in an almost paternalistic, loving way. I've talked to many female officers. They're surprised by the big to-do," Hill said.