Sexual Harassment, Sex Discrimination and Retaliation: Police Department May be Responsible for the Severe or Pervasive Sexual Harassment and Retaliation by a Sergeant

In Gross v. Akill, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155449 (E. D. Pa. October 30, 2013)(Slomsky, J.), a female police officer filed a complaint alleging sexual harassment, sex discrimination and retaliation against the Philadelphia Police Department and Police Sergeant Akill, alleging she was subjected to inappropriate sexual comments, including being asked out on dates, the Sergeant implying he wanted to have a romantic/sexual relationship with her, repeated references to Plaintiff as “my baby” and “my boo” and comments like, “don’t fight it,” “it’s going to happen,” “we are both adults and whatever happens stays between us,” and “being faithful is played out.”

Plaintiff complained to the Fraternal Order of Police and a Captain about the sexual advances, harassing and inappropriate comments, and that she felt she was being treated differently because of her sex and because she rejected the Sergeant’s advances. Thereafter, for 5 more months the Sergeant continued to make inappropriate comments and Plaintiff repeatedly told him to stop. On another occasion Plaintiff notified another Sergeant she would be late to work one day which was approved but when Plaintiff came in late, Sergeant Akill listed her as absent without leave and threatened to issue a counseling memo. Plaintiff then filed a charge with the EEOC and within 6 months while Plaintiff was not at work because she was on injured, a formal disciplinary action was instituted against Plaintiff for “Conduct Unbecoming.” as a result of Plaintiff’s alleged involvement in disputes with a neighbor.

In denying Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the Court found that although, when considered individually none of the events alleged by Plaintiff could be considered “severe” or “pervasive,” when considered in their totality, the “overall scenario” could be found to create a hostile work environment. Accordingly, the conduct over the course of a one year period was found to be severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. The Court also found that Sergeant Akill was not merely a co-worker who did not have the authority to take a tangible employment action and applied the recent Supreme Court, Vance v. Ball State University, 33 S. Ct. 2434 (S.Ct. June 24, 2013), to find that the Police Department could be responsible for the conduct of Sergeant Akill since he had authority over the terms and conditions of her employment, overtime pay, tour of duty, hours of employment, and discipline. As such, the Court found enough facts to make it plausible that Defendant Akill had the authority to effect an undesirable reassignment of Plaintiff, and therefore was her supervisor.
The Court also found that Plaintiff demonstrated that her compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment were impacted, raising an inference of an adverse employment action which could support a sex discrimination claim. In addition, the Court also found that Plaintiff had a plausible claim for relief for retaliation because she engaged in protected activity on two occasions when she opposed Sergeant Akill’s behavior by complaining about it to the FOP and a Captain and thereafter filing a EEOC Charge, and then Defendant Akill continued to make inappropriate comments, incorrectly labeled Plaintiff as AWOL, threatened to issue a counseling memo; and Plaintiff received formal disciplinary action on March 5, 2013 for “Conduct Unbecoming.”

For more information on sexual harassment and Abramson Employment Law see http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-2130161.html.

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Filed under Hostile Work Environment, Sex / Gender Discrimination, Sexual Harassment

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