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COLLINS v. CHRISTOPHER

May 25, 1999

LORETTA COLLINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DONALD CHRISTOPHER, ROBERT OLSON, WILLIAM CAVE, GERALD CURTIS, EMIL CAVORTI, EDWARD BARRETTE, CITY OF YONKERS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barrington D. Parker, Jr., District Judge.

      MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Loretta Collins, a female police officer with the Yonkers Police Department ("YPD"), brings this action against defendants Donald Christopher, Robert Olson, William Cave, Gerald Curtis, Emil Cavorti, Edward Barrette in their individual and official capacities, and the City of Yonkers ("City"), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of her First Amendment rights to free speech and to petition the government for the redress of grievances,*fn1 and her Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection, as well as retaliation and hostile environment sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, et seq. Collins also asserts parallel state law claim under the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y.Exec. Law § 296, as well as a disability discrimination claim under New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y.Exec.Law § 290, et seq., pursuant to this Court's pendant jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).*fn2

Before this Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment, pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(b). For the reasons stated below, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

Summary judgment may not be granted unless "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). On a motion for summary judgment, "[a]s a general rule, all ambiguities and references to be drawn from the underlying facts should be resolved in favor of the party opposing the motion, and all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial should be resolved against the moving party." Brady v. Town of Colchester, 863 F.2d 205, 210 (2d Cir. 1988) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 n. 2, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2556 n. 2, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)). The following facts are construed accordingly.

Collins claims that during 1985, her rookie year at the Police Academy, she and other women were subjected to verbal abuse because of their gender. She claims that on two specific occasions, two different male rookies told her that women did not belong on the job, a third officer made similar comments, and all the male members of the training class stated that women were not capable of doing the job but that female officers should be retained for reproductive purposes. Collins says she expressed her concern about these statements to the instructor of the class. When she requested to be assigned to the ESU at the end of her rookie year, Collins says she was told that she wouldn't be assigned there and that "cunts" were not wanted in that unit.

After repeated requests to be placed there, in March of 1986, Collins became the only female officer assigned to ESU. She remained in that unit until May of 1993. Collins says her experience in ESU was marked by harassment. She alleges that male officers in ESU at times referred to her and other women in highly derogatory terms, but she does not name the antagonists. When she first joined ESU, men in the unit outright refused and "went nuts" when told they would ride with Collins, she says. As early as her first day, a rubber chicken with female genitalia drawn on it was hung from the rearview mirror of the ESU truck she was assigned to drive. When ESU moved from the 4th Precinct to a separate building, the unit built a separate locker room for Collins, but later male officers who resented her presence usurped part of that locker room and made it a weight room. Animal parts, including deer's legs, a dead bat and a dead mouse were placed outside of the women's locker room. During this time, plaintiff was also exposed to the male officers in underwear and towels and had to listen to their conversations regarding their sex lives. When using the common bathroom, she was told to "get the fuck out" at least five different times while male officers banged on the door. Collins also observed pornographic magazines and posters in the bathroom. Collins, who was pregnant twice during her assignment to ESU, was told that women only came on the job to get pregnant so they could receive the benefits but not do the job, and was demeaned for being pregnant.

In May of 1993, Collins was transferred to the Inspectional Services Division of the Medical Control Unit ("MCU"). During her tenure in MCU, she asserts that Sergeant Warren Cave (the twin brother of defendant William Cave), Captain Gerald Curtis, and Lieutenant Edward Barrette, among others, routinely called her and other women demeaning names. Collins says that Sgt. Cave was perhaps the worst offender — his derogatory sexual behavior and language continued consistently from 1993 to late 1995 and little was done about it. Sgt. Cave, according to Collins, placed Sesame Street dolls Ernie and Bert on top of his desk and open to public view in a position of anal intercourse. Sgt. Cave and Sgt. Gardner pretended in a highly offensive fashion to be homosexual lovers in plaintiff's presence on numerous occasions. Sgt. Cave discussed with plaintiff an explicit video of two YPD officers having sex and told her that the male officer in the video "was pounding the shit out of her." This behavior was offensive to Collins who avers that she expressed this belief to everyone in the unit.

Collins complained to her captain about Sgt. Cave but the captain did nothing to resolve or rectify the situation and treated the behavior dismissively. Sgt. Cave's behavior was dismissed as "being on the rag." Collins also told Capt. William Cave about his brother's actions and requested his intervention.

In addition to sexual harassment, Collins had other problems with the YPD during this time. She claims that in 1993 to 1994, Police Commissioner Robert Olson conspired with then Deputy Chief Donald Christopher to stop the lawful arrest of Joseph Celli, a man accused of stalking Collins' sister. Celli was a relative of a YPD detective. In 1994 Collins complained about this investigation, stating that it was "handled funny," meaning that the matter was not properly pursued. She contacted Commissioner Olson and the District Attorney's office and alleged cronyism, favoritism, and protection of an officer's relative from investigation. In response to her complaints, Collins says she was threatened with disciplinary action, skipped over for promotion, and followed by members of the YPD. Her superiors also advised her to retain a lawyer because disciplinary charges would in all likelihood be filed against her.

Collins alleges that the sexual harassment and use of foul language in MCU continued under Captain Gerald Curtis, who was the commanding officer of the Internal Affairs Division ("IAD") and MCU from March 1995 to September 1996. Sgt. Richard Bannetto; Collins alleges, referred to complainants in vulgar and extremely offensive terms. This affected plaintiff in that she felt "guilty" because the YPD was not helping the complainants and was "embarrassed" because Curtis displayed disrespect for women.

Collins alleges that Curtis had a particular disdain for women. Both he and Sgt. Cave stated to Collins that women should be "kept barefoot and pregnant." Collins told Curtis that this offended her, yet he continually made such remarks. Capt. Curtis told Plaintiff that gassing up a car is a good job for a woman, that if a police car was broken a woman must have been driving it, and that cleaning up vomit was a woman's job. Capt. Curtis referred to women police officers who were absent from work due to injury as "phonies" and "fakers," made them go to the doctor multiple times and had their houses watched. Capt. Curtis told plaintiff she should "diet," that she should run up and down the stairs to lose weight, and when she was eating he would state "don't you think you had enough?"

Collins alleges that she received inferior assignments and training, and that she was undermined in the performance of her duties because she is a woman. Collins claims, inter alia, that on patrol in the 3rd Precinct, where she worked during her rookie year, males with less seniority than her were assigned patrol cars while she was assigned to foot posts. In 1992 during her later pregnancy and against her wishes, Collins was assigned to the Records Administration Unit, derisively called the "vegetable bin" within the department, where she had to do mundane work beneath her skill level. She and other women officers did not receive the specialized training that male officers received, a matter which Collins complained about to Police Commissioner Olson. For example, Collins says she requested numerous times to attend auto theft school, hazardous material school and sniper school, but was denied access to such training. In November of 1993, Collins was promoted to Sergeant. Despite her promotions, Collins claims she was not given a take-home department car, although Sgt. Warren Cave, the supervisor of MCU, and all other male officers had one. In late 1993 and 1994, as Infection Control Officer responsible for health and safety monitoring within the department, Collins discovered Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") violations and recommended in a series of memos to Capt. Cave that the department comply with federal regulations. Her recommendations included TB and HIV prevention techniques to improve the health and safety of officers and civilians. She also inspected the city jail and pointed out some health hazards. She says her recommendations were ignored.

Finally, during Capt. Curtis' command of MCU, the Pope visited Yonkers. On the day of the Pope's visit, Collins did not receive a special assignment but was required to work at MCU, her usual post. This occurred despite the fact that the majority of the department was detailed to the Pope and other law enforcement agencies were brought into Yonkers to assist.

On February 22, 1996, plaintiff filed a discrimination complaint against the YPD with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging she had been passed over for promotion to Detective Sergeant in the Internal Affairs Division because of her gender. (Collins has since dropped this claim.) In response, Collins says, she suffered acts of retaliation. On March 4, she says her office was stripped bare and she was moved to the fourth floor to a location that had been constructed for use as a jail. Collins alleges that this was a punitive measure in which she was separated from the rest of the internal affairs staff and moved to an unsuitable office. The 4th floor office was windowless, had spidermites, and a dead bird. The bathroom — which Collins had to share with criminal suspects — was unsanitary: the toilet was routinely smeared with feces and urine, and the drinking water was the color of mud. She avers, inter alia, that she was deliberately denied necessary office supplies, including a fax machine (which was not replaced when it broke) and a copy machine, and forced to climb a treacherous staircase which aggravated an old injury.

On March 27, 1996, following the relocation of her office, plaintiff filed her second formal complaint — a retaliation charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Over the next several months, plaintiff contends the retaliation against her continued and that she was ostracized by other members of the department. For example in May of 1996, Collins was absent from work because she had aggravated an old injury going up and down the steps between the third and fourth floors. Capt. Curtis ordered Lieut. Barrette and Sgt. Cave to visit Collins at home, the only time he had ever ordered Sgt. Cave to conduct such a visit. In addition, Collins says she was directed to report to Oracle Management where a "treating" physician made out a false report regarding her symptoms, claiming that she had a full range of motion when in fact she did not. A subsequent MRI revealed herniated discs in her neck and back. Beginning in June of 1996, Collins alleges that her ...


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