Employer Potentially Liable For Failing To Train Employees Not To Retaliate

Michael Savokinas was a police officer for the Borough of Avoca, Pennsylvania. After Savokinas resigned from his job, he sued the Borough, contending that the Borough’s Police Chief had retaliated against Savokinas for raising concerns that the Chief was involved in “corrupt, illegal conduct.” One of Savokinas’ claims was that the Borough had violated his constitutional rights by failing to train the Chief not to retaliate against other employees for exercising their free speech rights.

A federal court refused to dismiss the “failure to train” claim. The Court found that under some circumstances, the failure by a municipality to train employees can amount to a constitutional violation if the failure to train amounts to a “deliberate indifference” to the constitutional rights of others. For a failure to train to amount to a deliberate indifference, it must be shown “that (1) municipal policymakers know that employees will confront a particular situation; (2) the situation involves a difficult choice or a history of employee mishandling; and (3) the wrong choice by an employee will frequently cause deprivation of constitutional rights.”

The Court found that Savokinas’ failure to train allegations “although minimal,” go slightly beyond this threshold necessary to state a constitutional injury. As the Court put it, Savokinas “allegedly suffered harassment and false accusations by the Police Chief, undertaken in retaliation for his exercise of free speech. Savokinas has sufficiently alleged that the Borough’s policy of not training employees was the moving force behind this violation.”

Savokinas v. Borough of Avoca, 2008 WL 2622904 (M.D.Pa. 2008).

This article appears in the December 2008 issue