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Miller v. City of Ithaca

United States District Court, N.D. New York

December 21, 2012

Christopher MILLER, Plaintiff,
CITY OF ITHACA, et al., Defendants.

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AJ Bosman, Benjamin E. Brockman-Hawe, Bosman Law Office, Rome, NY, for Plaintiff.

Anne-Marie Mizel, Stokes, Roberts Law Firm, Pittsburgh, PA, Arch Y. Stokes, Stokes, Roberts Law Firm, Atlanta, GA, Patricia M. O'Rourke, City of Ithaca, Paul E. Wagner, Stokes, Roberts Law Firm, Ithaca, NY, Sharon M. Porcellio, Jeffrey J. Harradine, Ward, Greenberg Law Firm, Rochester, NY, for Defendants.


THOMAS J. McAVOY, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff Christopher Miller commenced the instant action asserting that he was discriminated against in connection with his employment on account of his race and gender and that he was retaliated against for engaging in protected activity. Miller asserted claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended; 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1981 and 1983; the New York State Human Rights Law (" HRL" ); and the New York State Constitution. [1] After a trial, a jury found that Plaintiff failed to satisfy his burden of proof on the discrimination claims, but found that all Defendants except Andrew Navarro retaliated against Plaintiff for engaging in protected activity. Presently before the Court are Defendants' motions to stay the judgment; for judgment as a matter of law or, alternatively, for a new trial; and attorneys' fees; and Plaintiff's motions for attorneys' fees, costs, and for an altered judgment.

In addressing the pending motions, the Court presumes familiarity with the prior motions in this case and the Court's Decisions and Orders relating to those motions.

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The basic facts are as follows. On October 5, 1999, Plaintiff Christopher Miller applied to be a police officer with the City of Ithaca Police Department (" IPD" ). In his application, Miller claimed that he was never " dismissed or discharged from any employment for reasons other than lack of work or funds" and that he never " resign[ed] from any employment rather than face dismissal." Saul Decl. at Ex. A. Unbeknownst to Defendants at the time, the application failed to identify two prior employers. One of the prior employers, the Town of Vinton, Virginia Police Department, recommended that Plaintiff be discharged from his employment due to various incidents involving his job performance and with following directions from supervisors.[2] Plaintiff told Defendants that he was unable to get a job as a police officer in Virginia. Plaintiff also was employed at Cargill, Inc. While at Cargill, Plaintiff was suspended for putting grease on the phone used to communicate with individuals in the mine. Def. Ex. G. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff's employment with Cargill was terminated for putting something in another employee's locker. Id.

On September 7, 2000, Plaintiff commenced working for the IPD and attended the Broome County Police Academy. During that period of time, Plaintiff wrote an autobiography. Among other things, the Plaintiff wrote that, when he moved to Virginia, he " stayed out of law enforcement altogether," and " no one would hire me in Virginia as a cop ...." [3]

In September 2004, the IPD Chief of Police determined that there was probable cause to believe that Plaintiff " commit[ted] the crime of criminal mischief against the residents of the area of the City known as the ‘ Jungle’ by damaging their personal property." The Chief of Police sought to terminate Plaintiff's employment as a result of this incident. In satisfaction of the charges, Plaintiff agreed to a four week suspension and forfeiture of five days of leave time.[4]

In 2007, Plaintiff applied for, but was not promoted to, a position as a sergeant. Plaintiff obtained the top score on the relevant civil service examination. Defendants contend that there were better qualified officers and that Plaintiff had character issues that precluded him from being promoted. Plaintiff, on the hand, contends that the then Chief of Police told Plaintiff that she had to promote minorities. Defendants denied that any such statement was made. These facts formed the basis of Plaintiff's discriminatory failure to promote theory, which the jury rejected.

On April 26, 2008, Plaintiff issued a bail receipt for $100 after receiving only $80 in bail money. As a result, a letter of reprimand was placed in Plaintiff's file. On August 4, 2008, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the New York State Division of Human Rights (" NYSDHR" ) against the IPD claiming that he was disciplined for various infractions and that other officers were not, that he was denied a promotion, that he was passed over for training opportunities, that he was being retaliated against, and that minorities received preferential treatment.

On September 19, 2008, Plaintiff was assigned to desk duty. Plaintiff claimed that this was on account of gender-based discrimination and in retaliation for his complaints of discrimination. Defendants

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assert that the assignment was a result of staffing coverage needs and the fact that Plaintiff was working overtime, rather than his regular shift.

On May 13, 2009, Plaintiff was assigned to a STOP DWI shift. Following the shift, Plaintiff wrote down the license plates of four vehicles he claimed to have stopped during the shift. An investigation suggested that Plaintiff did not stop the cars he claimed to have stopped. As a result, Plaintiff was issued a notice of discipline and received certain sanctions.[5] In addition, the District Attorney, who had been made aware of the STOP DWI allegations, made a determination that Plaintiff had credibility issues that would have to be disclosed to criminal defendants and, therefore, Plaintiff could not be used as a prosecution witness.

In July 2009, Plaintiff filed another charge of discrimination with the NYSDHR. For the month prior to July 20, 2009, Plaintiff had been assigned various beats, including central car beats, backup/traffic beats, and walking beats. In July and August 2009, Plaintiff was assigned to beat 204,[6] rather than his favored 203c beat, which covers the " flats," an area of Ithaca in which the poorer population is centered and has a higher crime rate. Plaintiff claims that the beat assignments were in retaliation for his charge of discrimination. Defendants, on the other hand, claim that Lieutenant Byrd received a community complaint concerning Plaintiff's conduct from a member of the Ithaca minority community and that it was the third complaint about Plaintiff in a one year period. Defendants also purport to have been concerned with Plaintiff's following of protocol while he was on the Commons beat (Beat 207). Defendants allege that Byrd became concerned that Plaintiff was not acting professionally towards minority citizens of the community and was not following protocol and, therefore, assigned him to beats where he would have less interaction with minorities and be subjected to closer supervision.

After July 20, 2009, Plaintiff worked for approximately four weeks when he went on administrative leave. Plaintiff remained on administrative leave from August 2009 through December 2009. By letter dated September 22, 2009, the Tompkins County District Attorney wrote a letter to Defendant Chief Vallely stating, in part, that:

The findings made in relation to the disciplinary proceeding into Officer Chris Miller's performance of certain duties has created a problem regarding his value as a witness in any pending or future hearings or trials.
It is my opinion that Officer Miller's credibility with respect to the accuracy/veracity of his paperwork has been irreparably damaged. I am unwilling to put him on the witness stand under any foreseeable circumstances owing to significant Brady and Giglio issues....

Upon his return from administrative leave, Defendants placed Plaintiff on permanent desk duty, purportedly because his value as a police officer had been undermined by the letter from the District Attorney.

In the spring of 2010, Defendants learned that Plaintiff had previously been employed as a police officer with the Vinton, Virginia police department. In April ...

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