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AGUIRRE v. NEW YORK STATE POLICE

July 5, 2001

WILLIAM AGUIRRE, MICHAEL PETRY, AND DEMARY LOPEZ, ADMINISTRATRIX AND PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF MIGUEL A. VALLE, JR., DECEASED, PLAINTIFFS,
V.
NEW YORK STATE POLICE, THOMAS A. CONSTANTINE, FORMER SUPERINTENDENT OF POLICE, AND JAMES W. MCMAHON, SUPERINTENDENT OF POLICE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Batts, District Judge.

    OPINION

William Aguirre, Michael Petry and DeMary Lopez, administratrix and personal representative of the estate of Miguel A. Valle, Jr. ("Plaintiffs"), bring this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII") and New York Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 290, et seq. ("HRL"). Plaintiffs are former New York State Troopers. Plaintiffs allege that the New York State Police, Thomas Constantine, former Superintendent of Police and James McMahon, Superintendent of Police, ("Defendants") discriminated against them on the basis of their race and ethnicity. All three Plaintiffs are Hispanic and were dismissed from their positions. Defendants claim that Plaintiffs were dismissed due to a night of drunken and violent behavior.

In addition, Plaintiffs Petry and Valle claim violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants deprived them of their First Amendment rights. Petry and Valle also allege retaliation, stating that the Defendants discharged them from their positions when the Defendants learned that Valle filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Defendants now move for summary judgment. For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' motion is granted in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiffs' Background and Work Record

1. William Aguirre

William Aguirre ("Aguirre") was employed with Troop "T" of the New York State Police in Albany, New York from 1979 to 1992. (Pl. Aguirre 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 1; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 1.)*fn1 He was also a member of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Policeman's Benevolent Association, both non-minority organizations. (Pl. Aguirre 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 16.)

During his tenure as a state trooper, Aguirre received two letters of censure and was disciplined by the New York State Police. (Pl. Aguirre 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 19; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 19.) On December 19, 1980, Aguirre received a letter of censure for his involvement in a preventable troop car accident. (Pl. Aguirre 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 20; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 20.) In addition, on February 26, 1982, Aguirre received a letter of censure for failing to identify the owner of an abandoned vehicle, which was stolen, failing to make a blotter entry, and failing to submit an impounded vehicle report. (Pl. Aguirre 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 21; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 21.)

2. Michael Petry

Michael Petry ("Petry") was also employed with Troop "T" of the New York State Police in Albany, New York in December 1992. (Pl. Petry 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 1; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 1.) Petry was a member of the Hispanic Organization of Police and the Guardians, both minority organizations. (Pl. Petry 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 4; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 4.)

While working as a trooper Petry received several sanctions and letters of censure. Petry was sanctioned with the loss of two vacation days by the New York State Police for failing to appear for night shift duty. (Pl. Petry 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 5; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 5.) Petry also admits he was suspended for three days for failing to submit an arson report. (Pl. Petry 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 6; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 6.) Finally, Petry received two letters of censure for careless, dubious and negligent police work in the prosecution of a criminal case and for failing to report to duty on one occasion. (Pl. Petry 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 8, 11; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 8, 11.) Petry was placed on probation for ninety days for negligent work on the criminal case noted above. (Pl. Petry 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 10; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 10.)

3. Miguel A. Valle, Jr.

Miguel A. Valle, Jr. ("Valle") was employed by the Division of State Police assigned to Troop "K" in Poughkeepsie, New York in December 1992. (Pl. Valle 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 2; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 2.)

Valle was sanctioned on numerous occasions for work-related offenses. On December 5, 1986, Valle was censured for failing to report to duty on two occasions, which he admits but adds was due to illness. (Pl. Valle 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 26.) On February 2, 1989, Valle was censured for failing to assist a disabled motorist, which he admits but notes he did what was required. (Id. ¶ 27.) For this violation Valle was placed on probation for ninety days, which he states was unjustified. (Id. ¶ 29.) On February 15, 1983, Valle was censured for possessing and selling a revolver reported missing from the Rochester Police Department inventory, to which he admits, but was found without criminal intent by the New York State Police. (Id. ¶ 33.) On two occasions, Valle received memoranda for failure to report to duty, misuse of military leave and failure to obey lawful orders. (Id. ¶ 34-35.) He was placed on six months probation regarding the last memorandum. (Id. ¶ 36.) On September 15, 1989, Valle was censured for failing to appear for a trial. (Id. ¶ 37.) Finally, on November 2, 1981, Valle was involved in a troop car accident, which was determined to have been preventable. (Id. ¶ 38.)

B. December 12, 1992 Incident

On December 12, 1992*fn2, Plaintiffs attended a party with other members of the New York State Police at a restaurant in Port Chester, New York. (Pl.s' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 48; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 48.) Plaintiffs left the restaurant at 9:00 p.m. and went to Sue's Rendezvous, a topless bar in Mount Vernon, New York. (Pl.s' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 54-55; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 54-55.) Plaintiffs were drinking heavily. (Pl. Aguirre 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 52, 56-59, 61; Pl. Petry 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 53, 61; Defs' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 52-53, 56-59, 61) At 2:45 a.m. an employee of the bar informed off-duty Mount Vernon Police Department Detectives Michael LaRotanda ("LaRotanda") and Mario Manganiello ("Manganiello"), who were also patrons in the bar, that one of the Plaintiffs was carrying a concealed weapon. (Pl.s' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 64-65; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 64-65.) Unaware that Plaintiffs were state troopers, the Detectives telephoned the local police asking them to investigate. (Pl.s' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 66; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 66.)

A local Mount Vernon police officer, Matthew Lombardo ("Lombardo"), arrived in uniform. (Pl. Petry 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 68; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt ¶ 68.) The detectives were in civilian clothes. (Id.) A "scuffle ensued" between Lombardo, Valle and Petry when Lombardo requested that Valle accompany him outside of the bar. (Lopez v. Constantine, 639 N.Y.S.2d 158, 159 (N.Y.A.D. 3rd Dep't 1995.))*fn3 During the course of the confrontation Valle struck Lombardo in the face. (Id.) Valle was subsequently subdued, but while Lombardo straddled Valle's back in an attempt to handcuff him, Petry grabbed Lombardo by the arm and collar and pulled him off. (Petry v. Constantine, 210 A.D.2d 866, 621 N.Y.S.2d 131, 131 (N.Y.A.D. 3rd Dep't 1994).) The detectives intervened and Plaintiffs were escorted outside of the bar. (Id.) Once outside, Aguirre identified himself as a state trooper. (Pl. Aguirre 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 83; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 83.) Petry and Aguirre spoke to Mount Vernon police officers using foul and profane language. (Petry, 621 N.Y.S.2d at 131; Pl. Aguirre 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 86; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 86.) Plaintiffs were then taken to the Mount Vernon Police Headquarters. (Petry, 621 N.Y.S.2d at 131.) While in the squad car, Aguirre cursed and directed obscenities toward a Mount Vernon Police Officer. (Pl. Aguirre 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 92; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 92.) While at the police station, Valle engaged in further aggressive and antagonistic behavior with Aguirre and Petry, including "headbutting", punching and wrestling with each other.*fn4 (Lopez v. Constantine, 225 A.D.2d 899, 639 N.Y.S.2d 158, 159 (N.Y.A.D. 3rd Dep't 1996); Petry, 621 N.Y.S.2d at 131; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 98). Petry and Valle's wrestling became so severe that Patrolman Godshall and several Mount Vernon police officers had to separate the two troopers — during which time Valle kicked a hole in a supervisor's office wall. (Pl. Petry 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 101; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 101.) Furthermore, Petry made obscene gestures towards members of the Mount Vernon Police Department and threatened them with future retribution when they used the highways. (Petry, 621 N.Y.S.2d at 131.) Finally, while Aguirre denies it, an administrative hearing found that at the police station Aguirre grabbed Sergeant Francine Moen by the arm twice, made obscene remarks, and called her "honey".*fn5 (Pl. Aguirre 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 118 citing Administrative Determination at 11.)

C. New York State Police Charges and Administrative Hearing

On February 1, 1993, the New York State Police served Plaintiffs with charges for violating sections 8.41(a)(1), 8.41(a)(2) and 8.44 of the New York State Police Rules and Regulations. Valle's charges stemmed from striking a uniformed police officer, engaging in violent, tumultuous and threatening behavior and using obscene language. (Pl. Valle 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 125; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 125.) Petry was charged with violations due to grabbing and wrestling with uniformed police officers, engaging in violent, tumultuous and threatening behavior and using obscene language as well. (Pl. Petry 56.1 Stmt ¶ 126; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 126.) Finally, Aguirre was charged with violations for subjecting Sergeant Francine Moen to physical contact, engaging in violent, tumultuous and threatening behavior and using abusive and obscene language. (Pl. Aguirre 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 127; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 127.)

On April 20, 1993, New York State Police Superintendent Constantine designated a Hearing Board to hold an administrative hearing concerning the charges and specifications served on the Plaintiffs.*fn6 The Hearing Board held a hearing of the charges and specifications on May 4, 5 and 7, 1993. (Pl.s' 56.1 Stmts. ¶ 129; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 129.) Over three days, the Board heard nine witnesses, all of whom were subject to cross-examination.

Petry appeared and was represented by counsel. Petry offered testimony and was cross-examined. Barrantes Aff. Ex. P. (Hearing minutes). Valle did not appear, due to medical reasons, but was represented by counsel. Barrantes Aff. Ex. P (May 4, 1993 Minutes at 8-9). Aguirre appeared representing himself and was permitted to cross-examine witnesses.

The Board found Aguirre guilty of all three charges, except there was no evidence presented to support the specification that Aguirre failed to identify himself as a state trooper or that he was abusive and used obscene language directed against one detective. (Pl. Aguirre 56.1 Stmt ¶ 143.) Most notably the Board found Aguirre subjected a female officer to physical contact by grabbing her arm and making obscene remarks. (Pl. Aguirre 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 145-146; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 145-146.)

Petry was also found guilty of all three charges. (Pl. Petry 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 137; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 137.) In its deliberations, the Board considered Petry's argument that he was aiding a brother trooper he thought was being assaulted. (Pl. Petry 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 139; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 139.) The Board found his testimony was not credible and further found Petry showed no remorse for his actions or conduct, which Petry denies. (Pl. Petry 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 140-141.)

Finally, Valle was also found guilty of all three charges. (Pl. Valle 56.1 Stmt ¶ 149; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 149.) Based on these findings the Board recommended the termination of each Plaintiff from the New York State Police. (Pl.s' 56.1 Stmts. ¶ 150; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 150.) On June 1, 1993, Aguirre, Petry and Valle were dismissed. (Pl.s' 56.1 Stmts. ¶ 151; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 151.)

D. Article 78 Proceedings

Upon dismissal, Petry and Valle each brought proceedings in the New York State courts to review their dismissals pursuant to New York Civil Practice Law and Rules Article 78.*fn7 The Third Department affirmed both Plaintiffs' dismissals and found meritless their contentions that the hearing procedure should be voided and the penalty of dismissal for the offenses was too severe. (Petry, 621 N.Y.S.2d at 132; Lopez, 639 N.Y.S.2d at 159.) Both courts found ample evidence that Petry and Valle engaged in misconduct sufficient to bring discredit to the state police by violating state police rules and regulations, warranting a dismissal. (Petry, 621 N.Y.S.2d at 132; Lopez, 639 N.Y.S.2d at 159.) Aguirre did not bring an Article 78 proceeding.

E. Procedural History

Thereafter, Plaintiffs brought three separate actions against Defendants alleging violations of Title VII, New York Human Rights Law and § 1983 as noted above.*fn8 The actions were consolidated.

Prior to this motion, Defendants moved to dismiss the Title VII actions as to Constantine and McMahon. Valle voluntarily withdrew his Title VII claims in a letter to the Court, while Petry consented to withdrawal in his reply brief.*fn9

Defendants now move for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiffs have not established a prima facie case under Title VII and have failed to put forth evidence demonstrating that the State Police's non-discriminatory reason for terminating ...


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