‘Stray Comments’ Do Not Support Trooper’s Sex Discrimination Claim

Moira Lamay was a Vermont state trooper. Lamay voluntarily resigned from her position as in February 2002, and was rehired in August 2003. In October 2004, following an internal investigation, Lamay admitted that she violated state police policy by filing a report concerning a high-speed chase that contained factual errors and inaccuracies. She accepted a letter of reprimand.

Shortly thereafter, Lamay became the subject of a second internal affairs investigation stemming from a traffic stop and drug-seizure that had occurred about a year earlier. The issue came to light when a deputy state’s attorney learned of discrepancies between Lamay’s affidavit and deposition testimony and a police videotape of the incident. Lamay was suspended with pay pending the investigation, and the following day asked a fellow officer to dispose of some marijuana in her desk that she considered a “loose end” from an earlier matter. This was reported to her supervisor as well, and resulted in a third referral to internal affairs.

When Lamay was fired, she filed a sexual discrimination lawsuit alleging that her termination was actually based upon sexual discrimination. Lamay cited as evidence comments from her lieutenant about her difficulties as a single mother in finding childcare, and the problems that posed with respect to her job.

The Vermont Supreme Court dismissed Lamay’s lawsuit. The Court found that “Lamay’s difficulty here is that her evidence was insufficient to support a finding that gender or gender stereotyping was a motivating factor in her termination. Remarks at work that are based on sex stereotypes do not inevitably prove that gender played a part in a particular employment decision. Thus, ‘stray’ remarks in the workplace can suggest a stereotyped attitude or hostile environment but do not necessarily demonstrate an illegitimate motive sufficient to require the employer to prove that its decision was based on legitimate criteria.

“The remarks attributed to Lamay’s supervisor, Lt. Harrington, fall in this category. His comments following Lamay’s termination were essentially descriptive of actual problems Lamay had with childcare – Lamay conceded that she ‘had trouble getting childcare on immediate call-ins’ – and do not convey the kind of invidious gender stereotyping that has been found sufficient to show discriminatory motive. The evidence did not support a finding that Lamay’s status as a woman or a single mother was a motivating factor in her discharge.”

Lamay v. State, 2012 WL 2445149 (Vt. 2012).