Judge Dismisses Discrimination Suit Against Police

Posted December 2, 2003 at 10:35am

A federal judge dismissed a sexual discrimination lawsuit against the Capitol Police Board on Wednesday, stating the plaintiff’s attorneys failed to adequately prosecute their client’s claims by failing to appear at court-sanctioned conferences.

“Plaintiff’s counsel has repeatedly failed to communicate with defense counsel and the mediator and now, once again, has failed to appear for a status conference without giving notice to the Court,” U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman wrote in the opinion. “It is only through the actions of counsel for the defendant that the case has progressed at all, and the defendant should not be placed in the position of being responsible for the prosecution of plaintiff’s case.”

The plaintiff, Capitol Police Officer Nancy Elam, filed the lawsuit in September 2001, alleging she faced both gender and disability discrimination and also dealt with retaliation for making complaints about the alleged discrimination. Friedman dismissed Elam’s disability discrimination and retaliation claims in a May 2003 opinion, stating, “[T]he alleged disability is insufficient under the legal standard and plaintiff’s claim of disability discrimination must fail on this argument as well.”

According to court documents her claim centered on her “‘asthma, a chronic bronchial infection and sinusitis’ and/or ‘a physical disability that requires her to work in a smoke and chemical free environment.’”

In the same opinion, Friedman also dismissed Elam’s retaliation claim, calling it “too vague, incomplete and conclusory.”

“She also fails to explain when either the asserted protected activity or the retaliatory employment action took place, making it impossible for the Court to discern a casual connection,” Friedman wrote.

Telephone calls placed to Martin & James, LLP, the firm representing Elam, were not immediately returned. Elam could not be reached for comment.

In court documents, Elam asserted she was subject to a “hostile work environment” and assigned to work in areas that exposed her to secondhand smoke. Her claim also alleged that the law-enforcement agency delayed processing of a worker’s compensation claim she made after suffering an allergic reaction resulting from the maintenance and cleaning of air ducts near her work space.

In a second, unrelated discrimination lawsuit against the Capitol Police Board, District Judge Rosemary Collyer dismissed the case after both sides reached a settlement agreement Nov. 25.

According to court documents, Capitol Police recruit Derek Waters filed suit in 2001 under Title XII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination, after being fired by then-Chief James Varey.

A department investigation found Waters had cheated on a written examination in June 2000 that recruits are required to pass to become sworn officers, and the head of the department’s Training Division recommended Water’s dismissal based on conduct “unbecoming of an officer,” court documents state.

Waters protested the decision, asserting racial discrimination had played a factor, and Varey requested an Internal Affairs Division review. That investigation “‘did not reveal a sufficient level of proof to substantiate that [Waters] was racially discriminated against by members of the Department,’ although it did reveal that some misconduct had occurred,” the court records state.