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MINOTT v. THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK

October 17, 2000

NATALIE MINOTT, PLAINTIFF,
V.
THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert W. Sweet, United States District Judge.

Opinion

Defendant the Port Authority of New and New Jersey (the "Port Authority") has moved, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for an order of summary judgment dismissing the complaint of plaintiff Natalie Minott ("Minott") alleging gender, race, and disability-based employment discrimination, and retaliation for her opposition to these discriminatory employment practices, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., ("Title VII") and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12112-12117 (the "ADA").

For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted.

The Parties

Minott was a probationary police officer employed in the Port Authority's Public Safety Department from November 1, 1993 until her termination on April 28, 1995.

The Port Authority is a bi-state agency created by compact in 1921 between the States of New York and New Jersey with the consent of the Congress of the United States.

Prior Proceedings

Minott filed this action on August 18, 1997. Minott had previously filed a charge alleging gender and race discrimination and retaliation by the Port Authority with the New York Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on May 1, 1995, and an identical charge with the Newark, New Jersey Area Office of the EEOC on January 22, 1996. The EEOC issued a "Right To Sue" letter on May 23, 1997, in which the agency notified Minott that it was terminating its processing of her charge and that she had 90 days within which to sue in the United States District Court.

The parties engaged in discovery, exchanging documents and deposing witnesses. The instant motion was filed on June 13, 2000, and oral argument was heard on June 21, 2000, at which time the matter was deemed fully submitted.

Facts

Minott was a probationary police officer employed in the Port Authority's Public Safety Department from November 1, 1993 until she was terminated on April 28, 1995. Minott was assigned to the Port Authority Police Academy (the "Police Academy") from November 1, 1993 to April 29, 1994. Minott successfully completed the prescribed training at the Police Academy and, following her graduation on April 29, 1994, was assigned as a probationary police officer to the Port Authority Bus Terminal (the "Bus Terminal").

In February 1994, Minott was informed by her physician that she was pregnant. At that time she was still at the Police Academy. She did not inform anyone at the Port Authority about her pregnancy until she completed the Police Academy. She informed her commanding officer at the Bus Terminal, Captain Anthony Infante ("Infante"), about her pregnancy immediately upon completing her first tour of duty there on or about May 3, 1994.

Prior to completing her probationary period, that is, from the period November 1, 1993 through April 18, 1995, Minott was absent due to illness on seven occasions for a total of 30 work days. She was absent on five or more occasions within a twelve month period, whether calculated as spanning from November 1993 to November 1994, or from March 1994 to March 1995. One of these absences, from May 10, 1994 to May 24, 1994, was due to a miscarriage. This absence was noted in the Port Authority's records as pregnancy-related. Four other officers, all of whom were either male or female but not pregnant, from Minott's recruit class had a higher total number of days absent due to illness prior to completing their probation period, namely: Officer Ashton ("Ashton") (31 work days); Officer Dubiel ("Dubiel") (66 work days); Officer Fasano ("Fasano") (75 work days); and Officer Way ("Way") (65 work days).

While assigned to the Police Academy, Minott received a written counseling memorandum dated April 4, 1994 concerning her absence record. Minott was counseled after her assignment to the Bus Terminal by a memorandum dated June 15, 1994, regarding three absences, including the two which occurred while she was at the Police Academy; by a memorandum dated August 19, 1994, regarding an additional absence; and by a memorandum dated November 28, 1994 regarding an additional absence. In November 1994, Minott's scheduled in-grade salary increase was deferred. According to a memorandum dated November 2, 1994 and issued by William Hall ("Hall"), Deputy Inspector and Commanding Officer for the Bus Terminal, the reasons for this salary increase deferral were that she had been counseled on June 24, 1994 for three sick occasions and on August 23, 1994 for four sick occasions,*fn1 and that there was a pending memorandum of complaint against her for being absent without leave on three occasions.

On January 5, 1995, Minott was served with charges for "Stage I" discipline for "Repeated and Excessive Absence" under the Memorandum of Agreement between the Port Authority and the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association Inc. (the "Union Contract"). Stage I discipline is triggered by two or more non-exempt occasions of absence in a consecutive nine-month period totaling 18 or more days absent. Under the Union Contract, certain absences due to work-related injuries are exempt. Minott had two work-related absences which were ultimately classified as non-exempt. One of these absences, from September 7, 1994 to September 8, 1994 was initially classified as exempt and then later reclassified. Her absence record brought her within the provisions of Stage I discipline even if her work-related absences are disregarded. None of the four officers who had a higher total number of days absent prior to completing their probationary period were disciplined or terminated based on their absences. However, with the exception of Way, the majority of these officers' absences — both in terms of the number of days absent and the number of occasions of absence — were classified as exempt because they resulted from injuries sustained in the line of duty. Way's absences, which were non-exempt, occurred on: February 11, 1994 to February 13, 1994 (1 work day), December 25, 1994 to December 29, 1994 (3 work days), and January 6, 1995 to April 8, 1995 (61 work days).

During her employment Minott consistently received performance evaluations of "meets standard" or better in every rated category. In an evaluation dated March 5, 1995, approximately six weeks before her termination, Minott received an evaluation stating "Officer Minott is a good police officer. She is dependable and works well with others." However, Minott also received an evaluation on March 7, 1995, in which it is stated that "While capable of performing the duties of police officers, Officer Minott continues to have attendance problems."

During the period in which Minott was attending the Police Academy, one of the supervisory officers, Detective James Verdino, commented to a Police Academy class that "[T]hese days they will pull an indian out of the tee-pee to satisfy quota requirements and anybody is now getting this job," and commented to Minott that one of the reasons Minott was being considered for employment with the Port Authority was that she was a black woman.

Also during this period, Minott heard other members of her recruit class comment that women were not suited for police work. Minott complained informally to several supervising officers. The response of these officers was essentially that such comments were par for the course and that police work is a man's job. At one point during Minott's training at the academy, one of her supervising officers, Lieutenant Durett, who is a woman, commented to Minott and a group of other women recruits that women are held to a higher standard than men within the Port Authority.

During her training at the Police Academy, one of the instructors told Minott that her pants were not dark enough even though they were purchased at an authorized uniform store. Also during this time, she and other women cadets were required to remove their shirts in the common waiting room, which was not blocked to males, to receive a vaccination.

Minott found a copy of a racially offensive joke in her mailbox at the Bus Terminal on February 15, 1995. The commanding officer distributed a memorandum to the staff on the following day, calling the memorandum to their attention and stating that any member of the force involved in such activity would be subject to disciplinary action.

On September 29, 1995, the EEOC issued a determination that there was reasonable cause to believe that the Port Authority had discriminated against female employees with pregnancy-related conditions through its policies/contract governing the forfeiture of vacation time based on the use of extended periods of sick leave by those employees.

In a memo dated March 27, 1995, Charles Knox ("Knox"), Director of the Port Authority Public Safety Department, recommended to the Director of the Port Authority Human Resources Department that Minott's employment be terminated based on her ...


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