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A former Albany, N.Y., police lieutenant who claims the department retaliated against her for complaining about sex discrimination has had her lawsuit reinstated. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, reversing a district court ruling, said that Lauren Signer had presented proof of an adverse employment action and alleged the department’s reasons for diminishing her status were pretextual. The ruling came by summary order from a 2nd Circuit panel of Judges Guido Calabresi, Rosemary S. Pooler and Sonia Sotomayor in Signer v. Tuffey, 02-7102. Signer had been a police officer for 10 years when she was promoted to lieutenant in 1997. She quickly became director of the Community Service Unit (CSU), which included duties as the department’s public information officer. In April 1998, Chief Kevin Tuffey ordered an investigation into rumors that Signer, whose husband worked as a dispatcher at the department, was having an affair with another high-ranking officer. Signer complained about the investigation and told Tuffey she was being discriminated against. She sent a written complaint to Tuffey through her union representative in May and followed up in June by having her lawyer fax a letter to the chief, again complaining of bias. On the same day the fax was sent, Signer was told her office was being moved to the sub-basement of the building, an area used for locker rooms and changing areas. In December, Signer was told the department was separating the public information officer slot from the duties of the Community Service Unit director, and that officers under her command were being reassigned to other police stations. The reason, they said, was a long-contemplated reorganization of the department. Signer filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charging sex discrimination and retaliation on Dec. 11, 1998. She then filed a federal suit in the Northern District of New York, where Judge Lawrence E. Kahn granted summary judgment for the defendants. On the appeal, Signer elected not to challenge the dismissal of several of her claims, including equal protection and due process, but she did appeal the dismissal of her claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for impermissible retaliation by her employer. PROTECTED ACTIVITIES The 2nd Circuit found Signer’s complaints in April, May and June of 1998 “each alleged that she was being discriminated against on the basis of her sex, and as such constitute Title VII protected activities.” The 2nd Circuit also said a juror might be skeptical about the department’s argument that its reorganization was not an adverse employment action unrelated to her complaints. The court noted that the reassignment of the public information officer duties could be considered adverse “because plaintiff was no longer in charge of a highly public position that had previously constituted a significant portion of her official duties.” “It is also conceivable that, when considered together with the reduction in plaintiff’s CSU responsibilities and the removal of her PIO duties, a reasonable juror could have concluded that the relocation of plaintiff’s office was an adverse change in her employment conditions,” the court said. “After plaintiff complained about the proposed move of her office to the sub-basement, she was moved instead to an out-of-the-way office next to the building’s garbage collection area.” The lower court, the circuit court said, erred by finding that Signer had failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation because it concluded the only protected activity was her Dec. 11 EEOC complaint. While the reorganization was an apparently legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the change in Signer’s responsibilities, the 2nd Circuit said, Chief Tuffey’s deposition “plainly” showed he began to consider the reorganization only after Signer’s first complaints had been registered. “Construing the factual evidence most favorably to plaintiff, as we are required to do, we find that there is sufficient basis for a jury to find that plaintiff suffered adverse employment actions and that defendant’s proffered nondiscriminatory explanations were pretextual,” the court said. Meredith H. Savitt of Hite & Savitt in Albany represented Signer. John Liguori and Megan B. Van Aken of Brennan, Rehfuss & Liguori represented Chief Kevin Tuffey and the Albany Police Department.

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