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Court reinstates bias suit filed by lesbian ex-police officer

Court reinstates bias suit filed by lesbian ex-police officer

A federal appeals court has reinstated a discrimination lawsuit filed by a lesbian former police officer, who charged the Santa Ana, California, police department treated her differently because of her gender and sexual orientation when it placed her on administrative leave pending completion of investigation of an anonymous complaint investigation.

Tammy Franks, an openly lesbian former commanding police officer, said the city deviated from its normal procedure when it placed her on administrative leave, according to Wednesday’s ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in Tammy Franks v. City of Santa Ana.

Ms. Franks filed suit against the city, charging it with violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the parallel state law, and with a hostile work environment and constructive discharge under state law.  The U.S. District Court in Pasadena granted the city summary judgment dismissing her case.

In reinstating her Title VII and related state law charges, a unanimous three-judge panel said Ms. Franks had met her burden of establishing her placement on administrative leave was pretextual “by demonstrating that there was a deviation from police force procedure that worked to her disadvantage…Deposition testimony confirms there were numerous deviations from the City’s standard investigation practice,” including that no other employee accused of the type of conduct against Frank had ever been placed on administrative leave without a preliminary investigation, or based on an anonymous complaint, said the ruling.

The ruling said it also disagreed with the lower court as to whether Ms. Franks had presented sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find she was subject to a hostile work environment.

“In light of the improper management of the investigation and aftermath, including ostracization, rampant rumors, and inability to effectively manage her time, a reasonable jury could find the city’s management of the investigation caused Franks to lose credibility at work and substantially interfered with her ability to do her job,” said the ruling.

The panel did uphold dismissal of Ms. Frank’s constructive discharge claim. To establish such a claim, said the ruling, an employee must prove the employer intentionally created, or permitted intolerable working conditions. The ruling said Ms. Franks had not presented any facts “that were sufficiently severe to constitute a constructive discharge.”

The case was remanded for further proceedings.

In February, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York held in an en banc ruling that Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.





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