Upstate Corrections Officer Survives Summary Judgment on Gender-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim

In Imperato v. Otsego Cty. Sheriff’s Dep’t, No. 13-cv-1594, 2016 WL 1466545 (N.D.N.Y. Apr. 14, 2016), the court held that plaintiff submitted sufficient evidence to overcome summary judgment on her sex-based hostile work environment claim.

From the decision:

Here, while the evidence before the Court is lacking in specifics regarding instances of discriminatory conduct directed toward Plaintiff that are severe enough to meet the standard for a hostile work environment, considering all of the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff it is sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact regarding a hostile work environment. On May 24, 2009, Plaintiff complained of “bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and sexual discrimination” that were “occurring everyday [sic].” (Dkt. No. 22, p. 17).19 While Undersheriff Allison reported that Plaintiff’s concerns were mostly “personality issues with other staff,” Plaintiff was sufficiently concerned to go outside the chain of command and next report sexual harassment and discrimination to the County Personnel Officer, Gliha, in April 2010. (Dkt. No. 22, p. 2; Dkt. No. 22, pp. 3-4). As Plaintiff reported to Gliha, and as the Teamsters Local Union President reported to Defendant Devlin in February 15, 2011, unlike male corrections officers (see Dkt. No. 22, p. 3), female corrections officers did not have a restroom that they could access without locking in their inmates to take a break. (Dkt. No. 22, p. 21; Dkt. No. 22, p. 88). Within a few days of learning that Plaintiff complained to Gliha, Defendant Devlin issued her a counseling letter chiding Plaintiff for “fail [ing] to follow the chain of command,” and noting that any further such incidents “could result in department charges,” (Dkt. No. 19-11, p. 2), even though the OCSD policy and procedural manual on sexual harassment stated that complaints could be made directly to Gliha. (Dkt. No. 19-7, pp. 3, 6). Further, Plaintiff stated that during firearm re-qualification, other officers made degrading comments, including stating that they were “going to make [her] cry” and making remarks and inquiries regarding classes that both females were attending. (Id., p. 45). Plaintiff thought that the “constant comments” contributed to her inability to qualify. (Id.).

Plaintiff has also submitted sworn statements from other female corrections officers complaining about sexual discrimination at OCSD. In her affidavit, Susan Szczepanski states that she was hired in August 2009 and that during her employment she was “repeatedly subject to sexual discrimination.” (Dkt. No. 22, p. 77). Szczepanski provided details of specific gender-based discriminatory comments made to her at OCSD. (Id.). Plaintiff provided an Otsego County Correctional Facility Information Write-up containing a sworn statement by another female corrections officer complaining about gender-based comments made on September 22, 2009. (Dkt. No. 22, p. 75). See Leibovitz v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth., 252 F.3d 179, 190 (2d Cir.2001) (“[W]e recognize that evidence of harassment directed at other co-workers can be relevant to an employee’s own claim of hostile work environment discrimination.”). Plaintiff also submitted evidence that Defendant Tilbe responded to an incident in which Plaintiff and Szczepanski provided a hot wash cloth to an inmate by “removing the microwave and coffee maker from the female section,” reasoning that “apparently they can not [sic] use them appropriately.” (Id., p. 40). Considering the above evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court finds that Plaintiff has raised a triable issue of fact regarding a hostile work environment.

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