Friday, March 8, 2013

Summary judgment affirmed in dual Title VII and First Amendment retaliation case

A fight in a late-night cafe cost a police officer a promotion. He sues under Title VII and the First Amendment. He loses both claims.

The case is Garcia v. Hartford Police Department, decided on January 28. Garcia was a sergeant who went to a cafe in Hartford when a fight broke out, resulting in some arrests. One of the officers beat the hell out of one of the fight participants. When Garcia told the Police Chief that the officer used excessive force, the Chief told the press that Garcia's concerns were overstated. Garcia then held a press conference "responding to what he deemed to be Chief Croughwell's attempt to assail his reputation."

Garcia continued to rub management the wrong way. He was later charged with two violations in connection with his alleged failure to take appropriate action during the cafe dispute. Then, Garcia used vulgarities in speaking with the press. So when promotion time came around, while Garcia was a high-ranking candidate in light of his examination score for the position, he was the only one out of 12 candidate to receive a promotion (he ranked third on the list). He lost his arbitration after a hearing into the alleged misconduct. A state court upheld the adverse arbitration findings. During Garcia's suspension, he was again charged with other misconduct. A subsequent round of promotions also left Garcia out in the cold, and he was found guilty of that misconduct afterwards.

The Title VII case fails because, although Garcia was among the few eligible minority candidates for the positions that went to other white officers, the City had a legitimate reason to deny him the promotion: the Chief did not want to promote someone who was under suspension at the time. There is no evidence to suggest this justification was offered in bad faith, and one of the sergeants promoted over Garcia was also Hispanic. While Garcia says that the department investigated his alleged misconduct because of his race, there is also not evidence to support this claim, either, as the investigator was just doing his job and he even found one allegation against Garcia to be without merit and recommended that the matter be closed.

The First Amendment claim also dies. The district court erred in saying that Garcia's public speech was not protected under the First Amendment because he spoke out for personal reasons. This is wrong, the Second Circuit (Lohier, Katzmann and Kearse) says. "Whether or not Garcia held the press conference solely out of a desire to protect his reputation, he spoke about a matter of public concern, namely, whether the police department was discriminating against Hispanics." As "the core of Garcia's dissatisfaction was with the Department's handling of allegations of discrimination against Hispanics," this was protected speech. But Garcia still loses because the adverse actions that followed his protected speech were undertaken legitimately by management. The analysis under Title VII also applies under plaintiff's First Amendment claim. So while Garcia gives other plaintiffs a decent ruling on the free speech claim, he loses the case.  

No comments: