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Legg v. Ulster County

United States District Court, N.D. New York

July 27, 2017

ANN MARIE LEGG; NANCY REYES; PATRICIA WATSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
ULSTER COUNTY; PAUL J. VANBLARCUM, in his official capacity as Sheriff of the County of Ulster and individually; RICHARD BOCKELMANN, in his official capacity as Sheriff of the County of Ulster and individually; BRADFORD EBEL, in his official capacity as Superintendent of the Ulster County Jail and individually; and RAY ACEVEDO, in his official capacity as Deputy Superintendent of Ulster County Jail and individually, Defendants.

          KLAPROTH LAW PLLC BRENDAN J. KLAPROTH, ESQ. Attorneys for Plaintiffs.

          RANNI LAW FIRM JOSEPH J. RANNI, ESQ. Attorneys for Plaintiffs.

          BERGSTEIN & ULRICH, LLP STEPHEN BERGSTEIN, ESQ. Attorneys for Plaintiffs.

          ROEMER WALLENS GOLD & MINEAUX LLP EARL T. REDDING, ESQ. MATTHEW J. KELLY, ESQ. Attorneys for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

          Frederick J. Scullin, Jr. Senior United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Pending before the Court are the parties' proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law with regard to Plaintiff Legg's disparate impact claim pursuant to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act[1] ("PDA"). See Dkt. Nos. 191, 192.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Legg was a corrections officer at the Ulster County Jail and, on May 11, 2009, she filed this lawsuit along with three other corrections officers, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Among various other claims, Plaintiff Legg asserted claims of pregnancy discrimination against all Defendants under the PDA and state law. The basis for her claim was that Defendants denied her request for light-duty assignments during her pregnancy, and she was consequently required to work directly with inmates.

         On January 7, 2011, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that Plaintiffs' claims failed for various reasons. See Dkt. No. 29. In a Memorandum-Decision and Order, the Court dismissed several of Plaintiffs' claims. However, the Court determined that a trial was necessary to adjudicate, among others, Plaintiff Legg's PDA claim against Defendant County. See generally Dkt. Nos. 55, 98.

         After Plaintiffs presented their case-in-chief, Defendants moved for a directed verdict on all of Plaintiffs' claims, including Plaintiff Legg's PDA claim. The Court granted Defendants' motion as to Plaintiff Legg's PDA claim after concluding that Defendants' light-duty policy was applied neutrally to all employees and, thus, could not form the basis for a PDA claim. See Dkt. No. 101; see also Dkt. No. 165 at 613-15.

         Plaintiff Legg appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the Court had erred in dismissing her PDA claim. See Dkt. Nos. 113. The Second Circuit first noted that, while the appeal was pending, the Supreme Court had held in Young v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 135 S.Ct. 1338 (2015), "that an employer's facially neutral accommodation policy gives rise to an inference of pregnancy discrimination if it imposes a significant burden on pregnant employees that is not justified by the employer's non-discriminatory explanation." Legg v. Ulster Cty., 820 F.3d 67, 70 (2d Cir. 2016). Therefore, based on this new controlling precedent, the Second Circuit vacated the Court's directed verdict regarding Plaintiff Legg's PDA claim and instructed the Court to hold a new trial.

         The Court thereafter held a trial regarding Plaintiff Legg's PDA claim. In that regard, the Court bifurcated the case to allow a jury to decide whether Plaintiff had established a disparate treatment claim[2] and directed the parties to file proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect to Plaintiff Legg's disparate impact claim.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Findings of fact

         1. The Ulster County jail and posts available[3]

         The Ulster County Jail ("Jail") has three shifts, A Line, B Line, and C Line. See Dkt. No. 194 at 3. In 2008, correction officers did not bid for their posts but were allowed to bid on their shifts. See id. at 79. With regard to posts, Sergeant Ferro and Corporal Reeves had discretionary authority to prepare the schedule. See id. at 8-9. Officers were therefore rotated to posts throughout the Jail. See Id. at 163. In 2008, Plaintiff was qualified to work any position in the Jail. See Dkt. No. 195 at 16.

         The Jail had eight Pods, each of which was a 48-cell housing unit that housed up to 60 inmates. See Dkt. No. 194 at 9. In each Pod, inmates were able to walk freely and socialize in a common area. See id. at 10. A-Pod housed 16-18 year-old men. See Id. at 11. B-Pod housed rapists, sex offenders, and suicide risks. See id. at 18-22. C-Pod housed "maximum security" male inmates, who had committed dangerous crimes. See id. at 12. D-Pod, G-Pod and I-Pod housed male inmates in the general population. See id. at 12-14. F-Pod housed female inmates. See id. at 13. H-Pod housed disciplinary/classification male inmates. See id. at 13. Dorm 2 was a smaller male housing unit that included a bathroom. See id. at 14-15. One correction officer supervised each Pod as well as Dorm 2. See id. at 11, 15. In these Pods and Dorm 2, the correction officer had direct contact with inmates. See id. at 14, 16, 152.

         Correction officers had more limited inmate contact in Medical, K-Pod and Dorm 1. See id. at 22, 26. Dorm 1 was the "trustee's pod, " where up to 24 inmates were housed who were pre-screened to ensure they did not have a violent background. See id. at 22, 23. One officer worked in Dorm 1 per shift. See id. at 23. K-Pod was a work-release program that housed inmates who were preparing to leave the Jail. See id. at 24, 25. One officer supervised K-Pod per shift. See id. at 24. Furthermore, one officer was assigned the Medical Unit per shift. See id. at 26.

         At the Jail, light-duty assignments were Central Control and Reception. See Dkt. No. 195 at 29; see also Dkt. No. 191-7 at 5. Correction officers had no contact with inmates while working in Central Control. See Dkt. No. 194 at 16, 18, 85, 154. Officers in Central Control did not respond to emergencies in the Jail. See id. at 78. Officers did not bid for Central Control; rather, they were assigned the position at the chart officer's discretion. See id. at 18, 163, 127-128. Each day, five officers worked in Central Control: two each on the day and evening shifts and one on the overnight shift. See id. at 89. Correction officers also had no contact with inmates when they worked in Reception. See id. at 16, 19. Officers in Reception did not respond to emergencies in the Jail. See id. at 78. Officers did not bid to work in Reception; rather, they were assigned the position. See id. at 19.

         2. Defendant's light-duty policy

         The parties agree that the relevant policy is the "Line of Duty Injuries/Light Task Assignment" (hereinafter, the "Policy") procedure guide. See Dkt. No. 191-7. However, the parties disagree on how Defendant implemented the Policy. Defendant, on the one hand, argues that its Policy was not intended to provide light-duty accommodations for employees; rather, it was meant to provide the Sheriff with a tool to force employees who were injured on the job to return to at least light-duty because, pursuant to N.Y. Gen. Mun. Law § 207-c, the County had to pay their full salary regardless of whether they worked. To the contrary, Plaintiff argues that the Policy allowed only those injured on the job to request light-duty accommodations; and the Sheriff would then, at his discretion, choose whether to assign such duties.

         a. The Policy and testimony presented at trial

         The Policy's stated purpose is "[t]o establish procedure concerning employee's (sic) injured in the line of duty and light task assignments." See Dkt. No. 191-7 at 2. Furthermore, the Policy provides that "[i]t is the policy of the Ulster County Sheriff's Office . . . to provide, whenever practicable, light duty task assignments for injured employees capable of performing such tasks." See id. In the section discussing line-of-duty injury status leave, the Policy explains that,

[i]n a case where an employee is on line of duty injury status leave or authorized sick leave and that employee is injured or recovering from injury and the extent of the injury would prevent the employee from performing full duty status assignments, whenever possible, the employee may be required to perform light task assignments.

See id. at 5.

         The Policy continues under the heading "LIGHT TASK ASSIGNMENTS" to state that, "[i]f it is determined, by physical examination, that a Corrections Officer is able to perform 'Light Task' he/she ...


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