A Southern Tier woman is suing a Steuben County academy for alleged gender discrimination.
Edith Jordan claims she was discriminated against because she is a woman and that she was dismissed from the Southern Tier Law Enforcement Academy at Corning Community College (CCC) in Steuben County after she complained. She further contends the college gave her negative references in violation of federal and state law and a settlement agreement between the parties.
Jordan, who was living in Chemung County at the time, filed suit against CCC and a few of its instructors and directors. U.S. District Court Judge Michael A. Telesca of the Western District of New York rejected most of the defendants’ claims, allowing the matter to proceed on its merits.
“I think the decision was well thought out and that the result was the right one,” said A.J. Bosman of the Bosman Law Firm LLC in Rome. “What it means for Edith is that she can get justice and she’s going to proceed ahead in an attempt to do that.”
Also named in the suit are Patrick Pariss, director of learning, CCC; Michael Marrone, session director, Southern Tier Law Enforcement Academy at CCC; and Rick Churches and Bruce Gugliotta, academy instructors.
The defendants moved to dismiss Jordan’s claims as being time-barred or already addressed in a settlement agreement before the New York State Division of Human Rights.
The college and its officials were represented by James F. Young, a partner in the Elmira firm Sayles & Evans who could not be reached for comment. Questions were referred to CCC.
“We were recently notified of the decision and we are reviewing the documentation,” said Deborah Stayer Kelly, CCC’s director of institutional advancement. “We’ll respond according to the process that’s set forth.”
In 2007, Jordan was a 33-year-old mother of two who entered the law enforcement academy that January after completing an associate degree in criminal justice at CCC the previous May, according to court papers. She was the only female in the class and claims she was treated differently than the male cadets in that she was referred to as the “weakest link” and was told to drop out because she would not “make it.”
Jordan further alleges she was not given the same opportunities to make up physical training requirements; was the only cadet told to make a choice between family, part-time jobs and the academy; and that her changing and bathroom facilities were 10 miles away from her fellow students.
Jordan complained and was allegedly told to resign or be fired. She was terminated Feb. 1, 2007. She appealed to the college, but the decision was upheld.
On Nov. 16, 2007, Jordan filed a discrimination charge with the state Division of Human Rights and later a second charge of discrimination and retaliation after being rejected for employment by three out-of-state police departments, rejections she claims resulted from negative information supplied by the college.
A settlement was reached with the parties July 6, 2009, and her complaints were dismissed. The settlement required defendants to pay Jordan $1,100 and provide future employers with an agreed-upon reference that says she left the academy for “personal reasons” and that she “excelled academically and had been appointed squad leader by her peers.”
Jordan claims the college subsequently provided negative, false and misleading information to three other police departments where she sought work. Jordan than hired Bosman and filed suit Nov. 22 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. The matter was later transferred to the Western District as the proper venue and motions were submitted in May without oral argument.
Judge Telesca ruled on five claims, dismissing all but part of one. He granted defendants’ motion to dismiss Jordan’s state law discrimination claims that predate the July 2009 stipulation of settlement. Jordan’s claims on post-stipulation conduct were not dismissed.
With respect to other claims, Judge Telesca found that although the three-year statute of limitations had run out from the time Jordan was dismissed from the academy to when Bosman filed suit, Jordan sufficiently alleged a continued course of discriminatory conduct that, if proven, could constitute a policy of gender discrimination, enough to stop the clock. Judge Telesca said the statute of limitations issue could be raised again following discovery.
He also denied defendants’ claims that the petition should be dismissed because Jordan’s claims were addressed in the Division of Human Rights settlement. Jordan, as Judge Telesca noted, contends she was not time barred because the defendants breached the settlement by issuing information inconsistent with its terms. She also argued the settlement agreement is not enforceable because it required the defendants to perpetrate a fraud on a third party by saying she left the academy for personal reasons, when she was actually terminated.
“The court need not decide whether the settlement agreement is itself enforceable because the court finds that plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that defendants breached the settlement agreement, such that the performance of her promise not to sue may be excused,” Judge Telesca wrote. “It is well settled that one party’s breach of a contract may excuse another’s performance of a future promise.”
Bosman said the agreement was flawed and, in essence, forced the parties to lie. She said when Jordan was filling out job applications, she was faced with the dilemma that “she had to respond in one way to be true to the agreement, which, as she alleges, was not upheld by the defendants” and required her to state something that was not true.
“Those kind of agreements cannot stand,” Bosman said, noting Jordan initially asked the Division of Human Rights to vacate the decision, a request that was denied.
On Jordan’s Title IX discrimination and retaliation claims, Judge Telesca rejected the plaintiff’s contention that they must be dismissed because, among other things, they must have a direct, educational relationship with an educational institution.
“Defendants apparently request this court to dismiss plaintiff’s claims of discrimination and retaliation because some of their actions took place after she was terminated,” according to the decision, dated Sept. 22. “Such an interpretation of Title IX would defeat the remedial purpose of the statute.”
Defendants also argued Jordan’s discrimination claims under federal Civil Rights law, 42 U.S.C., Section 1983, should be dismissed because the college, “while part of the state university system, is given wide latitude in day-to-day affairs” so it is not a “state actor” as defined in the law.
Judge Telesca disagreed and denied that motion to dismiss.
Bosman said Jordan still plans to pursue a career as a police officer. She was not sure if she intended to return to the academy at CCC.
“I’m hopeful that she will receive justice,” Bosman said.