In a lawsuit filed by a part-time police officer claiming she was passed over for a full-time opening because of discrimination, a federal judge has ruled that evidence of full-time officers voting for the person they wanted to see fill the position is admissible.
While plaintiff Tiffany Cooper claimed the evidence was prejudicial, U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab of the Western District of Pennsylvania agreed with defendant Chippewa Township that the evidence was relevant to the case.
Cooper alleged she faced discrimination a year after returning from maternity leave. She alleged that the chief of police, Clint Berchtold, did not have his officers rank candidates until after she was passed over for the full-time position, making evidence of the practice irrelevant.
However, the defendants contended that the chief did rely on the practice when considering the promotion in question.
Schwab said in a Nov. 16 opinion the evidence is “indeed relevant to the decision-making process at issue in this litigation. Moreover, the court finds that dates on the documents will help the parties establish a timeline for the jury as to what occurred when in the decision-making process, so that the jury, as the fact-finder, can best assess what may or may not have been relied upon during the decision-making process.”
The defendants also sought to exclude certain evidence, including evidence of Cooper’s 2013 pregnancy complications and her filing of a seniority grievance.
The defendants claimed that the evidence was both irrelevant and time-barred because they were outside the constraints of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
Cooper alleged that after she suffered a miscarriage, she tried to call off and Berchtold allegedly told her she was “costing the township too much money.” Cooper also alleged that Berchtold did not admonish other officers for taking time off.
“The court finds that plaintiff’s claims at bar focus on the actions and inactions taken after March of 2016 upon plaintiff’s return to work from her first maternity leave. Thus, the court finds that the November of 2013 incident is too far removed and too tenuously related to what plaintiff must prove in this case,” Schwab said. “However, with respect to plaintiff’s 2015 seniority grievance, the court finds that this evidence is relevant as all of the parties concur that seniority was a consideration during the decision-making process with respect to the full-time and 39-hour-per-week jobs that became available and which are directly at issue in this litigation. Therefore, this is evidence is relevant.”
Margaret Schuetz Coleman of The Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien represents Cooper and Teresa O. Sirianni of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin represents the township. Neither responded to requests for comment.