Brown v. City of Syracuse, No. 10-0529-cv, 2012 WL 806937 (2d Cir. Mar. 13, 2012)

Facts:

Brown, an African-American police officer, was suspended with pay pending the investigation of an incident involving a 15-year old girl he took to a hotel knowing she was a runaway. He was eventually suspended without pay, terminated, and subsequently pled guilty to a charge of Endangering the Welfare of a Child, which resulted in automatic termination under the applicable Public Officers Law. Brown brought a suit against the City of Syracuse, claiming they discriminated against him by treating him more severely than white officers who committed acts of equal or a more serious nature.

Procedural History:

Brown commenced a lawsuit asserting claims under Title VII, among other laws. The district court found in favor of the city, holding employment decisions made after Brown’s 2000 conviction could not be considered adverse employment actions because Brown’s employment relationship with the City of Syracuse ceased as a matter of law once he was convicted. The district court also dismissed the Title VII claim, finding suspension with pay pending an investigation is not a “materially adverse change in terms and conditions of employment.”

Issue:

1. Can an employee police officer prove adverse employment action for measures taken by an employer following the employee’s guilty plea?

2. Does suspension without pay pending investigation into criminal charges amount to adverse employment action?

Holdings:

1. No, an employee who is a police officer cannot prove adverse employment action for actions taken following a guilty plea.

2. No, leave, without pay, is not an employment action following a police officers guilty plea to a charge of Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Rule/Reasoning:

1.Endangering the Welfare of a Child is a self-executing offense, deeming vacant any public office upon an officer’s conviction of an “oath of office” offense. Such a law applies, as here, to an offense revealing a lack of moral integrity. Therefore, Brown ceased his employment relationship with the City of Syracuse upon conviction. This precludes the offering of evidence that he suffered adverse employment relationship once his employment ceased.

2. McDonnell Douglas burden shifting framework requires Brown to prove in part that he suffered an adverse employment action. Leave with pay, without more, does not constitute an adverse employment action. An employee does not suffer a materially adverse change by merely enforcing preexisting disciplinary policies in a reasonable manner. Brown had been previously warned about contacting the 15-year old girl and lied to fellow officers about the incident with the hotel room. Here, the application of department policies was reasonable.

 

Order:

Affirmed.

 

 

 

By: Judith Masiss-Sanchez

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