Stormy Weather: Court of Appeals Resurrects Dallas PD Officer's Claims of Retaliation
This is how the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit summarizes the events that led to Dallas Police Officer Stormy Magiera filing a discrimination lawsuit against the city in early 2006, six years after she was hired:
On May 21, 2005, Magiera responded to the sound of a gunshot being fired in the parking lot of a nightclub. Sergeant Dexter Ingram arrived at the scene shortly thereafter and, while attempting to restore order, referred to Magiera as "darling" and touched her arm. After Magiera asked Sergeant Ingram to refrain from calling her "darling" or touching her, Sergeant Ingram turned to Sergeant Kevin Harris, Magiera's supervisor, and said, "come talk to your girl [be]cause I can't." Officer Magiera asked Sergeant Harris for a control number to file a complaint with Internal Affairs. Sergeant Harris refused. Later that evening, Sergeant Harris and Sergeant Richard Forness removed Magiera from patrol duties and informed her that she could be sent home for requesting a control number. Magiera went home on leave. The next day, Magiera filed a complaint with Internal Affairs, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. According to Magiera, word of her complaint spread around the department, and other officers began treating her poorly.
At which point, Magiera says, things got worse -- to the point where she went to the EEOC, which gave her a "right to sue" notice, and so, in '06, she did just that. Magiera alleged in her initial complaint and in subsequent filings that officers refused to partner with her, they started screwing with her over the radio, she was denied overtime gigs and lateral transfers, she got an extra hard time from Internal Affairs, and was eventually booted from field training officer duties.
The city said Magiera had no case and asked the trial court for summary judgment; the court agreed. But the Court of Appeals said yesterday, "Not so fast." The judges do say that most of the officer's claims aren't what you'd call materially adverse -- which is to say, maybe they're retaliatory or maybe they're just coincidence, hard to tell. But all they needed was one solid claim -- Magiera's being relieved of field training officer duties, a gig she'd been allowed to keep before she filed suit despite seizures and a higher-up's claim that "she lacked the proper temperament" -- to resurrect the lawsuit. And so, yesterday, they did just that by reversing the trial court's decision and kicking it back: "We conclude that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the City retaliated against Magiera for filing a Title VII complaint by removing her from FTO duties."