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King v. Cape May County Board of Freeholders

September 29, 2006

ANTOINETTE KING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CAPE MAY COUNTY BOARD OF FREEHOLDERS, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge

OPINION

HON. JEROME B. SIMANDLE

Plaintiff Antoinette King filed this action against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-4.1 et seq. ("LAD") alleging discrimination based on age and gender.*fn1 The matter is before the Court upon the motions for summary judgment by Defendants Cape May County Board of Freeholders ("BOF"), Cape May County Department of Public Safety Training Center a/k/a Cape May County Police Academy ("Police Academy"), Bridgeton Board of Education ("BOE"), and Gary Schaeffer, Director of the Police Academy. For the reasons set forth below, Schaeffer's motion for summary judgment will be denied in its entirety and the motions by the Police Academy and the BOF will be granted as to King's § 1983 claims but denied as to the LAD claims. Finally, the BOE's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was employed as an Educational Enforcement Officer ("EEO") by the Bridgeton Board of Education from October 25, 1999 to October 15, 2003. (Schaeffer's Mot. for Summ. J. at 3; Pl. Opp. at 5.) As a condition of her employment, King was required to obtain certification as a police officer. (Compl. ¶ 3.) Accordingly, the BOE enrolled Plaintiff at the Cape May County Department of Public Safety Training Center in the Special Law Enforcement Officer Class ("SLEO") commencing May 3, 2003. (Id. at ¶ 4; Schaeffer's Mot. for Summ. J. at 3.) King was sponsored into the Academy by Acting Bridgeton Chief of Police Gregory Everingham. (Id.)

King alleges that once her training at the Academy began, Defendant Schaeffer, Director of the Police Academy, told her that she was "'too old' and that she had 'flunked the physical examinations.'"*fn2 (Compl. at ¶ 6.) For example, King alleges that she and Leston Hall, another BOE employee enrolled at the Police Academy,*fn3 were told by Defendant Schaeffer during their first day that "he felt as though [their] age was a problem."*fn4 (5/16/05 King Dep. Tr. at 40:13-14.) During this encounter, King claims that Schaeffer stated that "it would be best for [King and Hall] to withdraw and attend the Fall session instead of the session that [they] were attending." (King Dep. Tr. at 42:4-7.)

According to Plaintiff, Schaeffer also stated that he had contacted Robert Stevens, Security Coordinator at the Bridgeton Board of Education, and informed him that he wanted King and Hall to withdraw from the Academy. (Pl. Opp. Br. at 6.) Following this encounter, King contacted Stevens, who confirmed receiving Schaeffer's phone call. (King Dep. Tr. at 43:9-15.) King also alleges that Schaeffer reiterated his concern about King and Hall's age to Stevens during the conversation.*fn5 (Id.)

The Complaint alleges a second encounter between King and Schaeffer a few days later when she was again called into Schaeffer's office. At that meeting Schaeffer asked Plaintiff to withdraw from the course and rejoin in the Fall, but she refused. (King Dep. Tr. at 64:9-11.) According to King, she was then called into Schaeffer's office "every other day" during the entire time she was at the Academy and was either told she was not receiving credit for the physical training exercises or was asked to withdraw from the course. (Pl. Opp. Br. at 7; King Dep. Tr. at 63:20-24.)

A third encounter allegedly occurred following a physical training exercise on June 1, 2003. On that day, King claims she stopped running during the exercise in order to avoid a collision with another runner. She was then told by an instructor: "That's it, you're out of here." (King Dep. Tr. at 106:9-10.) She reported to Director Schaeffer's office following the incident whereupon he told her she did not get any credit for that day and again urged her to withdraw from the course. According to Plaintiff, Schaeffer was "screaming at the top of his lungs" when she refused to quit. (Id. at 106:22-23.) The following day King spoke to Stevens who informed her that he had withdrawn her from the Academy. (Id.) According to King, Stevens also indicated that Schaeffer had stated he "just wanted males there and women should be home barefooted and pregnant." (Id. at 107:20-21.) King was withdrawn from the Academy on June 5, 2003.*fn6 (Compl. at ¶ 7.)

Following her withdrawal from the Academy, King was enrolled at the Gloucester Police Academy by the Bridgeton Board of Education in August or September, 2003. (Pl. Opp. Br. at 8.) King was dismissed from that academy after she failed the same academic examination on two occasions. (Schaeffer's Mot. for Summ. J. at 3.) Stevens offered King an opportunity to enter another police academy but she refused. (Id.) Moreover, King was offered a position as a security monitor at the Bridgeton Board of Education upon her discharge. She turned down that offer as well.*fn7

King filed this complaint against Defendants Schaeffer, Cape May County Board of Freeholders, Cape May County Police Academy, and Bridgeton Board of Education on August 31, 2004. Defendant Cape May County Board of Freeholders filed a cross claim against Defendant Bridgeton Board of Education. Defendant Schaeffer also filed a cross claim against the Bridgeton Board of Education. Defendants subsequently filed the instant motions.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when the materials of record "show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).*fn8 Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment. Id.

In deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact, the court must view the evidence in favor of the non-moving party by extending any reasonable favorable inference to that party; in other words, "[t]he nonmoving party's evidence 'is to be believed, and all justified inferences are to be drawn in [that party's] favor.'" Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999)(quoting Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255). The threshold inquiry is whether there are "any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved in favor of either party."*fn9 Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 250; Brewer v. Quaker State Oil Refining Corp., 72 F.3d 326, 329-30 (3d Cir. 1995)(citations omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Section 1983 Claims

Section 1983 allows a plaintiff to bring a claim for violations of her federal constitutional rights.*fn10 To state a claim for relief under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege that the defendant: (1) violated a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) that the alleged deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250, 1255-56 (3d Cir. 1994).

King's Section 1983 claims here are premised on the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection clause.*fn11 (Pl. Opp. Br. at 40.)

1. Section 1983 Claims against BOF and Police Academy

King asserts a claim against both the BOF and the Police Academy under § 1983 for age and gender discrimination in violation of her Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection rights.

As an initial matter, summary judgment will granted in favor of the Police Academy. It is well established that a police department cannot be sued in conjunction with the city under § 1983 because police departments are administrative arms of the local municipality and not separate judicial entities. Linden v. Spagnola, No. 99-2423, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14573, at *17-18 (D.N.J. June 27, 2002); Bonenberger v. Plymouth Twp., 132 F.3d 20, 25 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997). The same is true for sheriffs. See Open Inns, LTD v. Chester County Sheriff's Dep't, 24 F. Supp. 2d 410, 417 n.13 (E.D.Pa. 1998)(holding that "Chester County Sheriff's Department is a subunit of Chester County which cannot be sued because it is merely an arm of the local municipality, and thus not a separate legal judicial entity"); Regalbuto v. City of Philadelphia, 937 F. Supp. 374 (E.D.Pa. 1995)(holding that a fire department is not a separate judicial entity). This Court finds that the Police Academy, as a division of the County Board of Freeholders, is likewise an administrative arm of the County and not a separate judicial entity under § 1983. Therefore, summary judgment will be granted in favor of the Police Academy on King's § 1983 claim.

Next, the Court finds that summary judgment should also be granted in favor of the BOF on Plaintiff's § 1983 claim. Municipalities and local government units are "persons" subject to suit under § 1983.*fn12 Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs. of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). Municipalities can be "sued directly under § 1983 for monetary, declaratory, or injunctive relief," where "the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers." Id. Policy is made when "'a decisionmaker possess[ing] final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action' issues an official proclamation, policy, or edict." Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990)(quoting Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 481 (1986)). Liability can be imposed for a single act taken by a municipal policy maker under appropriate circumstances. Pembaur, 475 U.S. at 481.

In addition, local governments may be sued "for constitutional deprivations visited pursuant to governmental 'custom' even though such a custom has not received formal approval through the body's official decisionmaking channels." Id. at 690-91. Conduct is considered a custom "when . . . though not authorized by law, 'such practices by state officials [are] so ...


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