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Heidi Clayton v. City of Atlantic City

October 22, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas


IRENAS, Senior District Judge:

Plaintiff Heidi Clayton, an Atlantic City police officer, initiated this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act ("CEPA"), N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 et seq., and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq.*fn1 Plaintiff claims that she was the victim of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Pending before the Court is Defendant City of Atlantic City's ("Atlantic City") Motion for Summary Judgment.


Since 1994, Plaintiff has been a member of the Atlantic City Police Department ("ACPD"), where she currently remains employed. (Def.'s 56.1 Stat. ¶ 2, Feb. 17, 2012.)*fn2 Plaintiff contends that during the course of her employment, she experienced sexual harassment and gender discrimination by Lieutenant Gregory Vandenberg, Deputy Chief Joseph Nolan, and Chief John Mooney.

In 1999, Plaintiff alleges that Vandenberg made several sexual advances towards her, which Plaintiff declined. (Pl.'s S.A.M.F. ¶¶ 1-10, June 25, 2012.)*fn3 According to Plaintiff, these advances included asking Plaintiff on several dates, massaging Plaintiff's foot on his leg near his genitals in a jacuzzi while on vacation, and reading Plaintiff a love poem over the phone. (Id. at ¶¶ 1, 3, 7, 9.) At the times Plaintiff asserts these incidents occurred, Vandenberg was Plaintiff's superior, but not her direct supervisor. (Id. at ¶ 2.) Vandenberg denies all of these incidents ever occurred. (Pl.'s Opp., Ex. E at 25-29.)

In 2006 or 2007, Plaintiff was transferred and Vandenberg became her direct supervisor. (Id. at ¶ 29; Pl.'s Opp., Ex. E at 29.) In the period after this transfer, Plaintiff claims that Vandenberg was motivated by retaliation for Plaintiff's rejection of his sexual advances when he changed her requested days off, despite Plaintiff's contention that seniority entitled her to her requested days. (Pl.'s S.A.M.F. ¶ 94; Pl.'s Opp at 9.) Vandenberg also required Plaintiff to use her vacation time in blocks of five days instead of her requested blocks of two, even though according to Plaintiff no other officer was required to do the same. (Pl.'s S.A.M.F. ¶ 97.) Finally, Vandenberg singled Plaintiff out for uniform violations during muster time.*fn4 (Id. ¶ 58-62.) According to Plaintiff, no other officers were ever reprimanded for similar conduct.*fn5 (Id.)

Vandenberg offers non-discriminatory explanations for his conduct towards Plaintiff. First, Vandenberg asserts that Plaintiff was eighteenth in seniority and her requested days off were taken by more senior officers. (Pl.s' Opp. Ex. E at 42-43, June 25, 2012.) Additionally, Vandenberg maintains that all officers were required to use their vacation days in blocks of five pursuant to a department policy. (Id. at 46-47.) Finally, with respect to the muster time uniform violations, Vandenberg claims that he was enforcing basic discipline. (Id. at 22.)

Plaintiff claims that she was also discriminated against on the basis of gender by Deputy Chief Joseph Nolan.*fn6 First, Plaintiff claims that Nolan had her suspended for leaving Atlantic City without permission, even though according to Plaintiff this was common practice and no other officer received discipline for similar conduct. (Pl.'s S.A.M.F. ¶ 35.) Second, Nolan reprimanded Plaintiff for her posture during roll call (Id. ¶¶ 80-83.), and Plaintiff maintains that such conduct routinely went unpunished. (Id.) Third, Nolan singled Plaintiff out for addressing a Sergeant by his first name, even though Plaintiff asserts that it was common to do so.*fn7 (Id. ¶ 79). Finally, Nolan assigned Plaintiff to traffic post as punishment for submitting inadequate log sheets. (Id. ¶ 90, 92.) Plaintiff contends that most officers on her shift did not submit log sheets at all, and those who did were never punished with traffic post for poor quality. (Id. ¶¶ 89-90.) Nolan, however, asserts that he has no problem with female officers, and enforces the same rules and policies with respect to every officer. (Pl.'s Opp., Ex. D at 88, 91, June 25, 2012.)

Finally, Plaintiff claims gender discrimination and sexual harassment at the hands of Chief John Mooney. First, Plaintiff contends that Mooney forced her to serve suspensions even though male officers had the option to instead forfeit sick or vacation days. (Pl.'s S.A.M.F. ¶¶ 38-39.) Second, while attending a funeral for Mooney's nephew, Mooney allegedly touched Plaintiff inappropriately. (Id. ¶ 42.) After doing so, another officer allegedly commented "we all love Clayton's ass," to which Mooney allegedly responded, "that's the only thing she has going for her. Everyone would follow her anywhere with an ass like that." (Id. ¶ 42-43.) Third, after Plaintiff was head-butted by a prisoner, and requested that he be charged, Mooney told her "had you known to keep your mouth shut, you would not have been head- butted." (Id. ¶ 41.) Finally, Plaintiff asserts that as Chief, Mooney had a duty to stop Vandenberg and Nolan from harassing Plaintiff, but failed to do so. (Id. ¶¶ 45-47.) Mooney however, denies all of Plaintiff's accusations. (Pl.'s Opp., Ex. C at 52, 53, 62, 66-68, June 25, 2012.)

Plaintiff also identifies several other incidents of alleged gender discrimination and sexual harassment. Former Sergeant Eric Dooley, who is Plaintiff's ex-boyfriend, allegedly transferred Plaintiff to another detail resulting in a three percent pay decrease. (Pl.'s S.A.M.F. ¶¶ 18-19.) Sergeant Rodney Ruark allegedly disciplined Plaintiff for conduct at grand jury, which Plaintiff claims has never happened to male officers. (Id. ¶¶ 76-78.) Sergeant Ruark also allegedly made inappropriate comments about Plaintiff to other police officers. (Id. ¶¶ 25-26). Sergeant David Madamba allegedly reprimanded Plaintiff for not holding her rifle correctly even though several male officers held their rifles the same way. (Id. ¶¶ 84-87.) At a crime scene, Captain Fair allegedly stated that Plaintiff should have gotten the door for other officers instead of securing a prisoner because Plaintiff is "just a girl." (Id. ¶ 93.)

At all relevant times, the ACPD had a policy regarding sexual harassment and gender discrimination. (Pl.'s Opp., Ex. A at 18-19, June 25, 2012; Def.'s Br., Ex. 18.) Pursuant to this policy, ACPD employees were required to be trained on issues of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. (Def.'s Br., Ex. 18.) While neither party introduced any evidence as to the specific details of the training sessions, Chief Mooney testified that he received training on these issues around a dozen times during his career. (Pl.'s Opp., Ex. C at 70-72.) Mooney further testified that ACPD supervisors receive additional training once they attain the rank of Sergeant. (Id.)

Plaintiff initiated the instant litigation by filing her Complaint on June 23, 2009. Plaintiff named Mooney, Nolan, Vandenberg, and Atlantic City as Defendants. Pursuant to an Order and Opinion dated June 30, 2010, this Court granted Defendants' Motion to Dismiss all claims against the individual Defendants and several claims against Atlantic City.*fn8 Remaining in this action are claims against Atlantic City for hostile work environment sexual harassment and unlawful employment practices pursuant to the NJLAD, and failure to ...

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