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Sebast v. Mahan

November 16, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe District Court Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Sherree Sebast commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Albany County and John Mahan, James Campbell, and Leonard Crouch, employees of Albany County, alleging negligence and violations of her freedom of speech and due process rights under the United States and New York State Constitutions. (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) Pending are defendants' motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. Nos. 41, 43, 45.) For the reasons that follow, the motions are granted in part and denied in part.

II. Background

A. Factual History

Plaintiff Sherree Sebast began her employment as a Clerk Typist I with the Albany County Sheriff's Department in 1999. (See Pl. Resp. SMF ¶ 2, Dkt. No. 50:1.) As one of three civilian female employees at the office, Sebast performed various administrative functions. (See id. at ¶ 3.)

From October 2003 to Summer 2005, Sebast and defendant John Mahan, Albany County Undersheriff, were involved in a romantic, sexual relationship, during which Mahan allegedly took compromising photographs of Sebast. (See id. at ¶¶ 4-5.) According to Sebast, following the end of the relationship, Mahan continuously accessed her work computer and her home, work, and cellular telephone voice mails. (See id. at ¶¶ 6-7.) Mahan allegedly began asking others about Sebast's activities and would wait for Sebast in parking lots at night and drive towards her suddenly, causing her fear. (See id. at ¶¶ 8, 10.) In the workplace, Mahan became hostile toward Sebast, screaming at her and behaving aggressively. (See Sebast Aff. ¶ 23, Dkt. No. 50.) Mahan also allegedly made several hang-up phone calls to Sebast's residence, spied on her home, and, on one occasion, knocked on a window and the door of her house at 2:00 a.m. (See Pl. Resp. SMF ¶¶ 9, 11-12, Dkt. No. 50:1.) Sebast further alleges that her car tires were slashed on two separate occasions. (See id. at ¶ 13.)

In December 2005, Mahan allegedly showed an unlabelled CD to Sebast, telling her that he put the compromising photographs on the CD and was going to mail them to her children and the man she was then dating. (See id. at ¶ 15.) In response, Sebast begged him not to do so, to which Mahan allegedly laughed. (See Sebast Aff. ¶ 28, Dkt. No. 50.) Later that day, Sebast found an unlabelled CD on her computer keyboard. She asked Inspector Mark DeFrancesco to examine the contents of the CD, but he was unable to open it. (See Pl. Resp. SMF ¶ 16, Dkt. No. 50:1.) With the CD in Sebast's purse, Mahan entered Sebast's office and asked her where the CD was. (See id. at ¶¶ 17-18.) Surmising that the CD was in Sebast's purse, Mahan forcibly took the purse away from Sebast and removed the CD. (See id. at ¶¶ 18-19.) In taking the purse, Mahan bent Sebast's finger back, causing her to suffer an injury that required medical treatment. (See id. at ¶¶ 20-21.) According to Sebast, DeFrancesco witnessed some of this incident. (See id.; see also Riley Aff., Dkt. No. 50 (testifying to a conversation with DeFrancesco in which DeFrancesco described witnessing Mahan scream at and grab Sebast).)

A few days later, on December 19 and 20, after allegedly speaking to an unnamed co-worker about her situation, Sebast met twice with defendant Sheriff James Campbell. (See Pl. Resp. SMF ¶ 23; see also Campbell Reply SMF ¶ 23, Dkt. No. 51:2.) While the parties do not dispute that Mahan was the subject of their meetings, they do dispute the extent of the conversations. Sebast contends that she told Campbell that Mahan was harassing her and caused her to fear for her safety; had been humiliating and screaming at her at work; had been stalking her by inquiring about her activities, waiting for her in parking lots, making hang-up phone calls, accessing her computer and voice mail, watching her house, and coming to her house; slashed her tires; and had threatened to distribute compromising photographs of her. (See Pl. Resp. SMF ¶ 23, Dkt. No. 50:1.) However, Campbell contends that Sebast merely told him about her former relationship with Mahan and that Mahan was "was harassing her with name calling and phone hang-ups of that nature." (Rehfuss Aff., Ex. G, Campbell Dep. at 13-14, Dkt. No. 43:9.) According to Campbell, Sebast declined his invitation to have the three of them sit down to discuss the matter and instead asked Campbell to talk to Mahan privately. (See id. at 14.) In a December 20, 2005 memorandum titled "Sherree Sebast Complaint," Campbell detailed his two meetings with Sebast: "[Sebast] advised that [Mahan] has continued to call her on the phone, send e-mails, etc. She also alleges that he has been harassing her at work, name calling, phone hang-ups, etc. [She] stated that she wanted [Mahan] to leave her alone and has told him so." (Campbell Aff., Ex. 6, Dkt. No. 41:7.)

Campbell further wrote that Sebast "wanted [him] to meet with [Mahan] and advise him that she requested to be left alone and that would take care of the situation entirely." (Id.)

During the December 20 meeting, Sebast also told Campbell that Mahan injured her finger and that DeFrancesco witnessed the incident. (See Pl. Resp. SMF at ¶¶ 23-24, Dkt. No. 50:1.) But Campbell admittedly never inquired with DeFrancesco about it. (See Rehfuss Aff., Ex. G, Campbell Dep. at 21-21, Dkt. No. 43:9.)

As a result of their meetings, Campbell and Sebast began considering a transfer to another office. (See, e.g., Campbell Aff., Ex. 8, Feb. 1, 2006 Mem., Dkt. No. 41:10 (detailing January 23, 2006 meeting held by Campbell with Sebast in which, after being "advised that [Sebast] was afraid of [Mahan]," he offered to "look into relocating her to another area"); id. (detailing January 31, 2006 meeting in which Sebast stated that she "wanted a transfer" and "would take a transfer to the Cohoes office").) In response to Sebast's request to be relocated to either the Sheriff's Department office in Voorheesville, New York, or the Albany County Airport office, Campbell informed Sebast that neither office had any clerical openings. (See Campbell SMF ¶ 10, Dkt. No. 41:21.) Ultimately, after visiting the office in Cohoes, New York, Sebast consented to a transfer to that office. (See Sebast Aff. ¶ 58, Dkt. No. 50.) However, on top of her general reluctance to work at the Cohoes office, Sebast contends that she protested any transfer on principle since it was Mahan who created the situation. (See id. at ¶¶ 55, 58.)

On February 6, 2006, Sebast began working at the Cohoes office, with the same salary and same hours, but with different duties. (See id. at ¶ 60; Campbell SMF ¶ 16, Dkt. No. 41:21.) As the Staff Sergeant at the Cohoes office, defendant Leonard Crouch became Sebast's direct supervisor. (See Rehfuss Aff., Ex. F, Crouch Dep. at 6, 13, Dkt. No. 43:8.) Prior to the transfer, Crouch and Mahan had discussed Sebast, though the nature of their discussions is in dispute. (Compare Pl. Resp. SMF ¶¶ 34-36, Dkt. No. 50:1, with Crouch Reply SMF ¶¶ 34-36, Dkt. No. 52:2.) During the first few months that Sebast was at the Cohoes office, she and Crouch developed a collegial relationship, pursuant to which Sebast told Crouch about Mahan's actions and Crouch advised Sebast to seek legal counsel. (See Sebast Aff. ¶¶ 61-67, Dkt. No. 50.)

However, Sebast grew dissatisfied with the quality of her new assignments and her relationship with Crouch deteriorated. (See Pl. Resp. SMF ¶¶ 39, 44-45, Dkt. No. 50:1.) According to Sebast, Crouch became hostile and aggressive towards her, yelling at and humiliating her, criticizing her performance, and making fun of her appearance. (See id. at ¶¶ 44-46.) And Sebast alleges that Crouch was acting on Mahan's request, (see id. at ¶ 38), an allegation that is supported by the affidavit of William Riley, a Captain in the Sheriff's Department, who averred that Crouch revealed in April 2008 that he was directed by Mahan to make Sebast's life "a living hell," (see Riley Aff. ¶ 7, Dkt. No. 50).

Although Sebast did not file any formal complaints, she does allege having subsequent telephone conversations with both Sheriff Campbell and Chief Craig Apple regarding Crouch's behavior. (See Sebast Aff. ¶ 76, Dkt. No 50.)

B. Procedural History

On January 28, 2009, Sebast filed suit against defendants Albany County, Mahan, Campbell, and Crouch, generally asserting six causes of action arising under federal and state law: (1) deprivation of her property without due process by demoting her and cutting her pay; (2) violation of her equal protection rights; (3) violation of her freedom of speech and retaliation; (4) conspiracy; (5) deprivation of her property without due process by transferring her, mistreating her, assigning less desirable duties to her, and refusing to respond to her complaints; and (6) negligence. (See Compl. ¶¶ 35-46, Dkt. No. 1.) On July 28, 2009, the court dismissed Sebast's equal protection and conspiracy claims. (See July 28, 2009 Decision & Order, Dkt. No. 29.) On April 15, 2010, defendants moved for summary judgment on Sebast's remaining claims. (See Dkt. Nos. 41, 43, 45.) In response, Sebast agreed to withdraw her property deprivation claim insofar as it concerned her wage reduction and work-week extension. (See Schockmel Aff. ¶¶ 3-4, Dkt. No. ...

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