U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and a national feminist group are defending the mayor of East Haven against what the organization claims is gender discrimination.

Last month, just five weeks before the East Haven mayoral election, former East Haven Police Commissioner William J. Illingworth filed a complaint against the mayor of the town, April Capone Almon, alleging that the $9,960 pay raise Capone Almon gave her secretary, Erica Berg, in July 2008 violated East Haven’s code of ethics. And in July, Capone Almon and Berg were arrested for allegedly interfering with police business.

In response, DeLauro led a group of more than a dozen community, state, federal and municipal leaders to defend Capone Almon in DeLauro’s New Haven office last week. And on Tuesday, the Connecticut chapter of the National Organization for Women released a statement expressing its concern that the complaint against Capone Almon, as well as her arrest, is the result of gender discrimination.

“I understand those who never got over the last election resorting to this phony charge,” DeLauro said in a statement to the News on Tuesday. “Mayor April has done an outstanding job in tough economic times, and they must fear the voters will cast a vote of confidence for her in the next few weeks.”

Still, a hearing is required to determine whether the relationship between the mayor and her secretary is more than just professional, Illingworth wrote in a complaint to the chairman of the East Haven Board of Ethics, Louis Crisci, according to the New Haven Register.

Illingworth’s complaint is the second against Capone Almon in recent months, after the July arrest. An officer claimed that the two women prevented him from towing cars at Cosey Beach, along the southern coast of East Haven, and demanded that the cars be returned to their owners.

The date for Capone Almon and Berg’s pretrial for the arrest has been postponed until after the election. Both women pleaded not guilty in their first court appearance last month.

In response to the ethics complaint, Capone Almon said she has known Berg and other East Haven officials for years.

“If that’s a personal relationship, then I have one with [East Haven Deputy Director of Town Affairs] Paul [Hongo] also,” she told the Register last week. “That is our relationship, which is very similar to Paul and everyone else in the office.” (Capone Almon could not be reached for comment Tuesday.)

Capone Almon was elected as the first female and youngest mayor in East Haven’s history in 2007, unseating the 10-year Republican incumbent Joseph Maturo Jr. by 25 votes. DeLauro attributed Illingworth’s complaint to remaining bitterness from that election.

Patricia Bellasalma, president of NOW of California, agreed with DeLauro, calling the complaint — as well as the July arrest — “outrageous.”

“What’s going on definitely has a great deal of gender politics as well as quite a bit of police corruption,” Bellasama said. “It is an abuse of power.”

NOW, which is based in Washington, D.C., seeks to eliminate sexism in the workplace, schools and the justice system by addressing sex-related issues and pushing for legal changes.