USF police chief accused of discrimination in lawsuit that alleges bizarre behavior

In her lawsuit, a former agency spokeswoman accuses the chief of regularly demeaning women in conversation and texting her after hours.
USF Police Chief Chris Daniel says the University of South Florida police station has worked for the department but has been stretched to its limits.  [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
USF Police Chief Chris Daniel says the University of South Florida police station has worked for the department but has been stretched to its limits. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published Apr. 29, 2020

TAMPA — A former spokeswoman for the University of South Florida’s campus police department has filed suit against the university, alleging that her ouster after little more than a year on the job was the result of racial, gender and disability discrimination doled out by her direct supervisor – USF Police Chief Chris Daniel.

In a civil lawsuit filed against the university’s Board of Trustees earlier this month, Trena “Renna” Reddick says she was wrongfully terminated by Daniel in June 2017 without any previous conversation of problems with her performance and despite maintaining a “satisfactory” employment history with the university.

The lawsuit also contains allegations that the chief exhibited a pattern of bizarre behavior during Reddick’s year-long tenure, claiming he would sometimes cry in Reddick’s office over his failed relationships; was frequently demeaning toward women during conversations with colleagues, even saying that then-USF President Judy Genshaft had too many facelifts and “talked like a man;” and once left a Miss Piggy stuffed animal hanging from a rope in Reddick’s office.

Neither Reddick nor Daniel would comment in this article. However, in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, the University of South Florida said it stood by the Florida Commission of Human Relations’ response to Reddick’s claims when she submitted the same grievances for a hearing after her dismissal - that “no reasonable cause exists to believe than an unlawful practice occurred.”

“The University of South Florida values respectful and fair treatment of all community members and strives to provide an environment that is free from discrimination, harassment or retaliation,” university spokesperson Althea Paul said in a statement. “The University believes that the claims are without merit and we fully expect the lawsuit will be dismissed, just as they were dismissed by the Florida Commission on Human Relations following a thorough review.”

It wasn’t until after she lost her job, during a hearing under the university’s “administrative process,” that Reddick heard any explanation from Daniel.

Up until then all she knew was what he had written in the “Notice of Non-Reappointment” she received a month before she was let go.

“This decision was based on the conclusion that it is no longer in the university’s best interest to continue your appointment,” the letter said. “Thus, this notice of non-reappointment does not constitute a dismissal for cause or disciplinary action, but rather the exercise of the university’s prerogative to discontinue its employment relationship with you with proper notice given.”

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The letter went on to say that Daniel would assign Reddick “alternate duties” off campus until the day her “non-reappointment” went into effect the following month, and that there was “no need or expectation that you will return to your current work location."

Related: USF Tampa campus is the least safe in Florida, study says

Reddick, 47, had a lengthy career with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement before she was hired by USF Police to fill the dual position of Communications and Marketing Officer/Public Information Officer in April 2016.

It was a demanding job on the USF Police Chief’s Command Staff, requiring Reddick to plan and coordinate events, author the agency’s press releases and marketing materials and become the public face of University Police by serving as the main point of contact for the media.

During the administrative hearing on her dismissal, the lawsuit said, Daniel said it was because Reddick “did not conform to the department’s format when authoring media releases” and that often those releases were “critical to the professional presentation USFPD wanted to make.”

Daniel criticized Reddick for taking “much longer than anticipated” to complete the monthly, internal newsletters that Reddick herself created when she joined the agency.

The police chief also discouraged Reddick from complaining about her dismissal to USF officials, the lawsuit said.

“If the non-reappointment process is not administered consistent with USF System Regulation 10-213, and university procedure ... you may file a grievance,” Daniel’s notice letter said. “However, the outcome of the grievance would only be to correct the issues with the process, not reverse the non-reappointment.”

From the day the “non-reappointment” went into effect on June 10, 2017, to the following January, Reddick said she applied unsuccessfully for 11 jobs at the university. Losing her job not only cost Reddick her income, but the “humiliation” and “emotional pain” aggravated an existing condition with Reddick’s heart, the lawsuit said.

Reddick missed work when she was admitted to the university’s Morsani Center with a low heart rate and signs of possible cardiac distress, the lawsuit said. In the weeks before she was given notice of Daniel’s decision to terminate her employment, Reddick took four more days of her available medical leave time to receive treatment for her heart condition.

Her lawsuit seeks compensation for court fees, lost wages and other compensatory damages to the tune of $30,001.

Related: Do USF police radios work on campus? Lawsuit raises questions, campus shooting raises the stakes

Despite complications with her health, Reddick had a good working relationship with her boss and coworkers when she first joined the agency, the lawsuit said. Daniel was friendly and spoke of how “great” it was to have an African American woman in such a prominent role in the department.

But things began to sour when Daniel asked Reddick for her personal cell phone number shortly after she was hired and would frequently text her after hours about his personal relationships with women, the lawsuit states. Daniel, Reddick’s direct supervisor, would often complain about failed relationships with other women employed by the university, sometimes to the point where he would break down in tears in her office and take sick leave from work, the lawsuit said.

And sometimes when Daniel walked into Reddick’s office during working hours he would suggest she leave the door open “or people would start talking about the two of them.”

Daniels was often demeaning toward women in conversations with other USF personnel, the lawsuit states, and referred to a local TV reporter, a USF professor and a police captain in his own agency as “idiots.”

Several months after she was hired, Reddick said she gave her boss a Miss Piggy stuffed animal to add to his collection of pig memorabilia. Reddick’s lawsuit says that Daniels would regularly throw the toy on the ground in conversations and refer to Miss Piggy as a “ho." On one occasion, Reddick said she found the toy tied to a rope, hanging from a television in her office, the lawsuit said.

When Reddick asked Daniel if he was the one who put it there,, the lawsuit said his reply was that Miss Piggy “deserved what she had gotten.”

A few months later, Daniel asked Reddick to quickly finish the agency’s first “Annual Report” after another employee failed to complete the project by its deadline. While running through the facts presented in the report, Reddick noticed inconsistencies with the numbers of minority employees listed as having worked for university police, the lawsuit said. She eventually determined that only two African American women were working for the department in 2016 as non-sworn employees, the lawsuit said. The agency then quickly hired one more.

Reddick acknowledged filing a separate discrimination suit with the Florida Commission on Human Resources. That case was dismissed in June after the commission ruled that Reddick did not provide sufficient evidence, or offer any witnesses to back up her claims. Instead, the investigation revealed that Reddick was “not re-appointed because of her performance,” the ruling said. “Complainant was replaced by another person of the same race and sex.”