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O'Dell v. Jefferson County

United States District Court, N.D. New York

April 8, 2014

JANICE O'DELL, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFERSON COUNTY, NEW YORK; JOHN BURNS, in his individual and official capacity as Sheriff of Jefferson County, New York; ANDREW NEFF, in his individual capacity as Undersheriff of Jefferson County, New York; ROBERT NEWTOWN, in his individual and official capacity as a Sergeant at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department; FRANCIS SEYMOUR, in his individual and official capacity as a Corrections Officer at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department; MICHAEL PETERSON, in his individual and official capacity as a Lieutenant at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department; KRISTOPHER SPENCER, in his individual and official capacity as Lieutenant, Jail Administrator, and employee of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department; and JOHN DOE(S) and JANE DOE(S), Defendants.

A.J. BOSMAN, ESQ., BOSMAN LAW FIRM LLC, Rome, NY, Attorney for Plaintiff.

LAURA L. SPRING, ESQ., JENNA WHITE KLUCSIK, ESQ., SUGARMAN LAW FIRM LLP, Syracuse, NY, Attorneys for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

DAVID N. HURD, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Janice O'Dell ("plaintiff" or "O'Dell") brings this civil rights action against Jefferson County, New York; John Burns ("Burns"), in his individual and official capacity as Sheriff of Jefferson County, New York; Andrew Neff ("Neff"), in his individual capacity as Undersheriff of Jefferson County, New York; Robert Newtown ("Newtown"), in his individual and official capacity as a Sergeant at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department ("Sheriff's Dept."); Francis Seymour ("Seymour"), in his individual and official capacity as a Corrections Officer at the Sheriff's Dept.; Michael Peterson ("Peterson"), in his individual and official capacity as a Lieutenant at the Sheriff's Dept.; Kristopher Spencer ("Spencer"), in his individual and official capacity as Lieutenant, Jail Administrator, and employee of the Sheriff's Dept. (collectively "defendants"); and John Doe(s) and Jane Doe(s). Plaintiff's amended complaint asserts twenty-seven causes of action against defendants.

Defendants move to dismiss the entire complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff opposed and defendants replied. Oral argument was heard on March 21, 2013, in Utica, New York. Decision was reserved.

II. BACKGROUND

The following facts, taken from the amended complaint, are assumed true for purposes of the motion to dismiss. See Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc. , 282 F.3d 147, 152 (2d Cir. 2002).

Plaintiff is a Caucasian female Corrections Officer who began working for the Sheriff's Dept. on December 28, 2008. She contends that throughout her employment, she has been subjected to a continuous course of ongoing harassment, discrimination, unequal treatment, and retaliation by defendants based on her sex, association with African Americans, and her opposition to such discriminatory conduct. Further, she alleges she was falsely charged with internal disciplinary charges as well as and criminal charges based on her opposition to such conduct and her refusal to resign from her position.

A. Facts relating to sex discrimination

In December 2010, an Officer Sands and defendant Newtown, plaintiff's then supervisor, requested plaintiff send them pictures of herself, and when she did not, sent plaintiff a photograph of a penis. Within one week after that, Newton approached plaintiff and informed her that he might have to reprimand her, despite there being no basis for doing so. Plaintiff alleges this was to intimidate her from reporting or complaining about his discriminatory conduct. In April 2011, without plaintiff's consent, Newton approached her from behind at a law enforcement function and lifted her up and informed her that he predicted they would have a relationship someday. Further, on multiple occasions, Newton has made inappropriate comments about plaintiff's physical appearance.

Defendant Seymour has made statements to plaintiff that the jail is "no place for a female to work." Am. Compl. ¶ 29. This attitude is known to other defendants and as a result, they have all failed to correct this behavior or train, supervise and/or discipline employees appropriately with regard to racism or sexism. Defendant Neff[1] sent plaintiff unsolicited sexually suggestive messages online between March and July 2011. He has also referred to females in disparaging terms, including "bitch, " referring to a Patrol Deputy who filed a complaint of sex discrimination. Id . ¶ 30.

Plaintiff alleges it is a custom, policy, and/or practice of supervisor defendants to engage female employees and inmates in sexual relationships and to allow sexual harassment, unsolicited sexual advances, and disparate and demeaning treatment of women in the Sheriff's Dept.

B. Facts relating to race discrimination

In addition to being discriminated against because she is a woman, plaintiff contends that she was subjected to discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliated against because she associated and/or sympathized with African Americans, including inmates. Defendant Newton cautioned her about speaking with an African American inmate because of "perception." Id . ¶ 33. On March 21, 2012, while off-duty and outside of work, plaintiff met a college friend who happened to be African American at a restaurant. She learned in May 2012 that this encounter was observed and photographed by her coworkers. She contends that defendant Seymour put her under intense scrutiny for her association with African Americans, while male employees who did not associate with such individuals were not subject to the same scrutiny. At an unidentified date, defendant Peterson spoke with plaintiff's father and told him "we believe your family may be in danger. I haven't briefed the Sheriff on this yet." Id . ¶ 36.

C. Charges

On May 17, 2012, plaintiff was called to a meeting with defendants Neff, Peterson, Burns, and Spencer. She was accused by each of having relationships with inmates inside and outside of the facility and was threatened to resign. She was suspended without pay without a full investigation, and publicly escorted from the facility. She alleges that Peterson and Spencer told her coworkers to stay away from her and delete her from their social networking accounts. A few days later, Seymour went to plaintiff's parents' home and told plaintiff's mother that plaintiff was "sweet on" one of the African American inmates. Id . ¶ 40. On May 21, 2012, plaintiff's father Stephen Pierson went to Burns and complained about the discriminatory treatment of his daughter. He stated that white male employees of the Sheriff's Dept. have had relationships with inmates, driving under the influence convictions, and other arrests and their employment was not jeopardized.

On May 24, 2012, plaintiff was served 27 Specifications and 6 Disciplinary Charges which sought the termination of her employment. These charges included supplying contraband (a lighter) to an African American inmate, reading on duty, conduct unbecoming, and consorting with persons of ill repute. Plaintiff alleges that defendants Burns, Neff, Seymour, Peterson, and Spencer falsely manufactured these charges. The charges were investigated by Spencer and the evidence ...


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