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Non-Shaving Deputy Wins Punitive Damages, Attorney Fees

Lavanden Darks is one of four black deputies with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department in Missouri. Jackson County employs approximately 100 sworn officers. In 2014, Jackson County required all sworn officers appearing in uniform to be clean shaven with the exception of moustaches. Darks experienced pain with shaving and was medically diagnosed with an inflammatory skin condition known as psuedofolliculitis barbae. After attempting several treatments and other shaving methods,…

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‘Failure To Train’ Claim Must Show Deliberate Indifference

Jo Anne Pepitone is a police sergeant in the Lower Merion, Pennsylvania Police Department. Pepitone sued the Department, alleging that “there have been numerous sexually charged rumors circulating throughout the police department that have contributed to creating a sexually hostile and gender discriminatory hostile work environment,” including rumors that Pepitone had “sexual relationships with her supervisors and members of neighboring police departments” and “was promoted because of a sexual…

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No Retaliation If Decision-Maker Unaware Of Protected Activity

Aubrey Lyons is an African-American corrections officer with the Michigan Department of Corrections. After being transferred in 2012 to the Macomb Correctional Facility, Lyons allegedly began to experience various incidents of discrimination by his white supervisors. Lyons filed his first internal discrimination complaint against the Department in January 2015 in response to being disciplined for violating its computer use policies. Lyons claimed the white investigating lieutenant, James Webster, singled…

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Court Upholds Officer’s $500k Judgment Against Sergeant

Officer Detlef Sommerfield works for the Chicago Police Department. Sommerfield was born and raised in Germany, where some of his family members had died in concentration camps during the Holocaust. At some point he emigrated to the United States, settled in Chicago, and joined the CPD. His supervisor was Sergeant Lawrence Knasiak. As the federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals described it, “for years, Sommerfield endured vicious anti-Semitic abuse…

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No ‘Error Too Obvious To Be Unintentional’ On The Money Train

Tiffany Washington, an African American woman, served as a sergeant in the Metro Transit Police Department from 2008 to 2016. The Department is a unit of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which operates trains and buses in and around the District of Columbia. Washington worked at WMATA’s Revenue Collection Facility in Alexandria, Virginia, where she supervised lower-ranking officers aboard the money train, which transports cash fares from…

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Requiring Pregnant Officer To Use Up Leave Violates Discrimination Law

Officer Kathleen Delanoy works for the Ocean Township Police Department in New Jersey. When Delanoy found out she was pregnant with her second child, she informed her supervisors her doctor recommended she be taken off patrol. She asked to be transferred to a light-duty or less strenuous position within the Department. She was consequently assigned to non-patrol duty, pursuant to the Department’s Maternity Assignment Standard Operating Procedure (Maternity SOP)….

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Firefighter Fired For Refusing Vaccination, Accommodation

Brett Horvath was employed as a driver/pump operator by the City of Leander Fire Department in Texas. Horvath is an ordained Baptist minister and objects to vaccinations as a tenet of his religion. In 2014, two years after he was hired, the Department adopted an infection control plan that directed fire department personnel to receive flu vaccines. Horvath sought an exemption from the directive on religious grounds, and the…

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Subjective Hiring Criteria For Fire Chief Are Not Necessarily Illegal

When the City of Americus, Georgia failed to hire Roderick Jolivette as its fire chief, Jolivette sued, claiming he was discriminated against because he is African-American and in retaliation for suing his former employer for unlawful employment practices. A federal trial court found that the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons the City proffered for hiring Roger Bivins, a Caucasian man, were not pretexts for discrimination and retaliation. Jolivette appealed, and the…

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Chicago Officer Loses Discrimination Claim

Adam Wazny was born in Poland. He immigrated to the United States with his parents and siblings in the mid-1990s. Although he has lived in the United States for most of his life, Wazny speaks English with an accent. Wazny joined the Chicago Police Department in 2003. In 2009, after working in several roles including as a beat officer, he transferred to the Department’s vice section, which is made…

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Same-Sex Partner Loses Claim For Survivor Benefits

Debra Lee Anderson and Deborah Cady were committed partners who worked for the Rapid City Police Department in South Dakota. Cady retired from the Department in May 2012. The couple married on July 19, 2015. Cady passed away on March 10, 2017. Upon Cady’s passing, Anderson applied for spousal survivor benefits under Cady’s retirement plan with the South Dakota Retirement System. The System denied Anderson’s application claiming Anderson and…

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Who Are ‘Comparable Employees’ For Discrimination Purposes?

Most discrimination cases follow a three-step process first described by the Supreme Court in McDonnell-Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under the McDonnell-Douglas framework, the employee bears the initial burden of setting forth a prima facie case of discrimination. The burden then shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for whatever adverse action it took against the employee. If the employer meets that burden,…

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Discipline For Accident Not Pretext For Discrimination

Patrick Boyd was a captain with the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, and a member of the Department’s SWAT team. Boyd is white. On March 26, 2015, Boyd sent an email to other officers and employees of the Department, to which he attached a list of grievances. Some concerned the Department’s promotion policies and testing, and were motivated in part by Boyd’s belief that the Department was “favoring one…

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‘Clearly Established Law’ Forbids Discrimination Based On Union Activity

Joseph Giberson, the now-retired Police Chief of Stafford Township, New Jersey presided over the 2012-2013 police sergeant promotional process. Among the candidates was Joseph Mrazek, who also served as president of the local Police Benevolent Association (PBA). Mrazek sued Giberson, among others, for retaliating against him in the promotion process because of his union affiliation. Candidates for promotion to sergeant were evaluated in a two-part process that included both…

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Refusing Request To Use Employer’s Car Amounts To Illegal Discrimination

Frank Blair and Gabe Molina are employees of the New Mexico Department of Corrections, and are officials of AFSCME Local 3422, the bargaining unit for New Mexico’s corrections officers. In 2009, the Department denied a request from Blair and Molina to use a state vehicle to travel to and from a policy review meeting with Department management. Blair and Molina were attending the meeting in their capacity as “employee…

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Fire Captain Loses Beach Volleyball Case

Andre DeCohen, who is African-American, is a fire captain employed by Los Angeles County. On February 25, 2012, DeCohen was working an overtime shift at a different station. Tom Brady was another captain working the same shift. In the Department, firefighters, including captains, are required to participate in physical training for at least one hour per day. When DeCohen arrived at Fire Station 110 for his overtime shift, Brady…

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Evidence, Not Speculation, Needed For Race Discrimination Claim

Timothy Rivers, an African-American, was hired by the Macon, Georgia Police Department in February 2010. Rivers was certified as an Explosive Ordnance Device K-9 handler, and had been assigned to partner with EOD K-9 Arco in August 2013. On January 1, 2014, the City of Macon and Bibb County were consolidated to form a unified governing body known as Macon-Bibb County. As a result of the consolidation, the Macon…

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Not Religious Discrimination To Refuse Muslim CO’s Request To Wear Khimar

Linda Tisby began working as a corrections officer for the Camden County, New Jersey Correctional Facility in 2002. In 2015, Tisby reverted to the Sunni Muslim faith. On May 1, 2015, Tisby reported to work wearing, for the first time, a traditional Muslim khimar, a tight fitting head covering without a veil. Tisby’s supervisor informed her she was not in compliance with the uniform policy and could not work…

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Transsexual Officer Wins Discrimination Lawsuit Over Bathroom Use

The Clark County, Nevada School District hired Bradley Roberts as a campus monitor in 1992. At that time, he was known as Brandilyn Netz. In 1994, Roberts moved to a police officer position. Roberts held that position without incident for seventeen years. In 2011, Roberts began dressing for work like a man, grooming like a man, and identifying himself as a man. He also started using the men’s bathroom…

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Discrimination Law Protects Divorcing EMT

Robert Smith is a certified emergency medical technician and paramedic working for the Millville, New Jersey Rescue Squad (MRS). At the time of his termination in February 2006, Smith served as Director of Operations and had held that position since June 1998. Smith’s wife at the time, Mary, was also employed by MRS, as were her mother and two sisters. In early 2005, Smith commenced an extramarital affair with…

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Who Is A ‘Comparator’ For Discrimination Purposes?

Edward Voccola, who is Caucasian, sued the City of Bridgeport, Connecticut, for race discrimination after he was terminated from his job as a firefighter. Voccola’s troubles began on September 5, 2010, when the Shelton Police began investigating an incident involving Voccola. Voccola’s neighbors, who had ongoing problems with Voccola based on their belief that he had dumped motor oil on their property several years earlier, called the police because…

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‘Classic Stray Remark’ Cannot Support Discrimination Claim

There is a definite disconnect between the perception of sexual harassment law and what the current state of the law actually is. Many believe that overtly racist or sexist workplace comments easily support Title VII harassment claims. Owing to a number of Supreme Court decisions narrowing the law considerably, that belief is rarely accurate. A recent case out of Ithaca, New York illustrates this principle. Mark Hassan, of Middle…

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False Positives Do Not Make Hair Tests Discriminatory

The challenges to the hair drug test used by the Boston Police Department took a curious turn with a decision from a federal court in Massachusetts. The case involved a racial discrimination claim brought by ten black officers against the Department challenging the constitutionality of the hair drug test administered by the Department to officers and cadets from 1999 through 2006. Under the program, a small percentage of officers…

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Gratuitous Comments Not Enough For Pregnancy Discrimination Claim

Patricia Rosati has spent most of her career in the 8th Police District in the City of Philadelphia since becoming a police officer in 1996. Sgt. Michael Colello was the administrative sergeant in the 8th District from early 2008 through mid-2012. As Rosati recited the facts, from 2005 through 2014, Rosati took multiple leaves of absence under the Family And Medical Leave Act and frequently worked on restricted duty…

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Rank Matters In Fire Department

Felicia Scroggins is a firefighter for the City of Shreveport, Louisiana. On September 20, 2010, Scroggins and other Shreveport firefighters responded to a residential fire. Scroggins and Captain Reggie Taylor were part of Fire Engine Six. Fire Engine Four, which was run by Captain Jeff Cash, also responded. While attempting to put out the fire, Scroggins and Captain Cash became involved in an altercation. Scroggins told investigators that she…

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Transfer Denial Cannot Support Discrimination Claim

For many discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the employee must show that he/she was the subject of an “adverse employment action.” Roughly speaking, an adverse employment action amounts to some quantitative or qualitative change in the terms or conditions of his employment or some sort of real harm. A federal appeals court recently rejected the discrimination claim of Nora Chaib, a corrections officer for…

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