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A federal judge has ordered New York state to certify as a police officer a woman who was previously denied certification in retribution for pursuing a gender discrimination claim against the police academy. Northern District Chief Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. said in a decision last week that “there can be no dispute” that Charlene Lathrop’s First Amendment rights were violated. Lathrop v. Onondaga County, 5:99-CV-586, stemmed from the state’s refusal to certify a police officer candidate who had not completed her testing within the required time period because she was barred from taking the test while her gender discrimination claim was pending. Lathrop enrolled in the Central New York Police Academy in 1997 and successfully completed all course requirements except the “defensive tactics” portion. After failing the test a second time, Lathrop was advised that she could attempt the test any time within a year of her provisional appointment as a police officer in the Village of Marcellus. However, that offer was rescinded when Lathrop began a gender discrimination complaint against the academy. The state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) refused to grant Lathrop an extension to complete the course and refused to certify her as a police officer. She eventually passed the test, but not within the one-year time period. In a federal civil rights case, Lathrop sought injunctive and equitable relief — namely, an order forcing the state to certify her as a police officer. To succeed, she needed to convince Scullin that she was deprived of a constitutional right by a person acting under color of state law, and that DCJS could be held liable. She did so. In an 18-page opinion, Scullin observed that the director of the Police Academy had specifically advised Lathrop in a letter that she would not be retested because of her ongoing litigation. That in itself established a First Amendment violation, Scullin said. The court also found that criminal justice services displayed deliberate indifference to Lathrop’s constitutional rights and knew that she had ultimately passed the test, and that the delay was due to the agency’s own refusal to retest, not any failure on the candidate’s part. Scullin directed the agency to issue a certificate of completion to Lathrop, acknowledging that she has completed the basic course required for police officers. Appearing were, for Lathrop, Richard A. Maroka of Satter & Andrews in Syracuse, and Assistant Attorney General Maria Moran of Syracuse for the state.

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