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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Officers’ Personnel Files Discoverable In Discrimination Litigation

Christopher Barella, a white police officer working for the Village of Freeport, New York, sued the Village claiming that the Village’s hiring and promotional processes discriminated on the basis of race. In the course of the litigation, Barella sought disclosure of the personnel files of 24 employees who worked in City departments other than the Police Department. Barella claimed that the personnel files would show that the Village’s Mayor…

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Colorful Decision Upholds Discrimination Verdict For Firefighter

From the opening words of a federal court’s opinion in Firefighter Melissa Smith’s sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against the City of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, one realizes that the Court’s opinion is going to be unlike most “just the facts, ma’am” judicial decisions. Judge Gregory Presnell began his opinion writing: “Discrimination in the workplace anywhere in the United States is inconsistent with the concept of ordered liberty as…

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Court Refuses To Issue Promotion TRO In Jacksonville FD

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit in April 2012 alleging that the process used by the City of Jacksonville, Florida to promote certain ranks of firefighters discriminated against African-Americans. Among the allegations, the DOJ claimed that the 2004 and 2008 testing processes used to promote fire suppression captains were discriminatory. When the City scheduled a new promotions test for fire suppression captains for November 18, 2013, the…

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Arbitration Decision Does Not Preclude Discrimination Lawsuit

When Cecilia Baldazo was fired from her job as a deputy sheriff for Elko County, Nevada, she filed a federal court lawsuit alleging that she was the victim of discrimination on the basis of her gender and her sexual orientation. The State raised the defense that since Baldazo had challenged her discharge in arbitration, and had lost, the arbitration decision should be res judicata and require the dismissal of…

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Black Police Chief Loses Race Discrimination Claim

Robert Herbert became the Police Chief for the City of Forest Hill, Texas in 1994. In 1998, seven months after giving Herbert a “glowing” performance evaluation, David Vestal, the City Manager, demoted Herbert to the position of sergeant. Herbert, who is African-American, responded with a race discrimination lawsuit. Herbert claimed that the City’s asserted reason for terminating him – his inadequate job performance – was a pretext for discrimination….

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Omaha’s Affirmative Action Plan For Fire Department Ruled Discriminatory

In 1971, the City of Omaha, Nebraska instituted the first of a series of affirmative action plans for the Fire Department. The most recent plan, adopted in 2002, is consistent with the Office of Federal Contracting Compliance Program Guidelines on Affirmative Action Programs (Guidelines). The Guidelines, which are not binding on municipalities, specify that “availability” is defined as “an estimate of the number of qualified minorities available for employment…

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Failed Severance Package Not Basis For Discrimination Lawsuit

Kimberly Andree was a lieutenant with the Eagle County, Colorado Sheriff’s Department. In 2010, the County was facing significant revenue reductions, and the Board of County Commissioners told the Sheriff that he would need to cut his Department’s budget by $2 million. During this same time period, the County offered early retirement packages to its employees. At the end of June 2010, Andree met with the Sheriff and told…

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Minnesota Deputies’ Case Shows The Evidence Necessary For A ‘Pretext’ Claim

Many “retaliation” cases follow the same general structure. First, the employee must present a prima facie case by showing that (1) he engaged in an activity protected by the First Amendment, (2) he suffered an adverse employment action, and (3) the protected conduct was a “substantial or motivating factor” in the employer’s decision to take the adverse employment action. The employer can rebut the employee’s prima facie showing by…

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Return-To-Work Policy Amounts To Illegal Military Discrimination

By 2002, Brian Petty had reached the rank of sergeant with the Metropolitan Government of Nashville-Davidson County. To supplement his income as a police officer, Petty also moonlighted as a security guard at two local restaurants. In addition to these two positions, Petty served as a member of the Army National Guard. He joined in 1986 and opted into the Army reserve in 1989. In 2003, the Army deployed…

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Promotional Test Need Not Be Based On Materials Pertinent To Particular Employer

Over the years, the M.O.C.H.A. Society of Buffalo, Inc., a fraternal organization of African American firefighters in Buffalo, New York, has brought a number of race discrimination lawsuits against the City of Buffalo. The latest lawsuit involved a fairly unique question: Can an employer show that promotional examinations having a disparate impact on a protected class are job related and supported by business necessity when the job analysis that…

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Complaints About Discrimination Not Necessarily Protected By First Amendment

James Brooks and Donald Hamlette were employees of the Virginia Department of Corrections. Brooks was a senior corrections officer, supervised by Hamlette, a lieutenant. Hamlette is African-American and a Baptist minister. Both men reported to Howard Arthur, the Superintendent, and Major Randal Mitchell, the Assistant Superintendent. Brooks met with the Department’s Equal Employment Opportunity office to discuss filing a discrimination charge against Arthur. Among other things, Brooks reported that…

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Fire Chief Loses Lawsuit Against Firefighters’ Union

Michael Pruitt was the first African-American Fire Chief for the City of Longview, Texas. After he was terminated from this position, he filed suit against the Longview Professional Firefighters Association, Local 4331 of the IAFF, as well as several officers of the union. Pruitt alleged that Local 4331 “initiated a public campaign targeted to undermine the public perception of Chief Pruitt’s work ethics and initiatives, as well as his…

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Maternity Leave Policy Does Not Illegally Discriminate Against Men

Ronald Wahl is an employee of the Suffolk County, New York Police Department. Wahl sued the City, alleging that he had been subject to a discriminatory maternity leave policy that provided benefits to women but not to men in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Wahl also complained that he was a victim of retaliation in violation of the First Amendment and the Family and…

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Court Overturns Verdict Against Fire Department, But Not Against Fire Union

Anthony Booth and Jerry Brown are firefighters with Pasco County, Florida, and are members of the bargaining unit represented by Local 4420 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. Booth and Brown sued the County and Local 4420, claiming that both retaliated against them after they filed various charges of discrimination against them in 2007 and 2008. Booth and Brown alleged that the County retaliated against them by mandating…

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‘Disrespect’ Does Not Equal ‘Hostile Work Environment’

Keith Armstrong, who is African-American, was a Jersey City police officer. Armstrong had no serious complaints with the Department or his supervisors until the internal affairs unit of the Department began investigating difficulties he was having with his neighbors. From 1996 to 2006, the Department had received 28 complaints from citizens about Armstrong. Most of the complaints were from Armstrong’s Jersey City neighbors, who were also African-American. The neighbors…

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Employer Not Necessarily Required To Transfer Firefighter Suspected Of Discrimination

Quentin Schamber was an Engineer with the Denver, Colorado Fire Department, and was assigned to Station 25. Lieutenant Dennis Horton was Schamber’s immediate supervisor. On October 27, 2008, Horton told Schamber to stand in front of a fire engine approximately five to ten feet away. Horton then activated the engine’s siren without warning Schamber. As a result, Schamber suffered a loss of hearing in his left ear and tinnitus….

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Court Overturns Equal Rights Commission, Finds No Discrimination Against Lieutenant With Parkinson’s Disease

Lieutenant Miguel Hervis has been serving as a police officer with the City of Miami, Florida since 1988. He is currently a Commander in the Domestic Violence Unit. In 2004, Hervis was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and shortly thereafter, symptoms of his condition became evident to his coworkers and superiors, including Chief John Timoney. Although Timoney realized that Hervis’ motor skills were impaired, he did not know that Hervis…

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Corrections Officer Loses Reverse Discrimination Claim

James Finley works as a corrections officer for Camden County, New Jersey. Finley brought a reverse discrimination against the County, arguing that in several rounds of promotions, the County declined to promote him because he was Caucasian. Finley argued that the County systematically promoted less-qualified non-Caucasian candidates. A federal trial court examined the evidence and dismissed Finley’s claim. Starting with promotions that occurred in March 2006 and March 2007,…

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