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Discrimination lawsuit against Irondequoit dismissed

'Not the proper role for a federal court'

A federal judge has dismissed a discrimination lawsuit filed against the town of Irondequoit by a member of the town board.

Plaintiff and board member Patrina Freeman filed a complaint against the town of Irondequoit and two board members: John Perticone and Kimie Rome.

Freeman, who was elected to the town board in 2019, is the only Black member of the board.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, which was granted by U.S. District Court Judge David G. Larimer. In a decision issued Monday, Larimer explained the background information for the case.

In May 2020, after George Floyd, a Black man, was murdered by a member of the Minneapolis Police Department, numerous protests and demonstrations took place throughout the country, including Rochester and its suburbs, including the Irondequoit.

In August 2020, then-Town Supervisor David Seeley approached Freeman about chairing a commission to deal with issues of racial equity in the town, according to Larimer’s decision.

On Oct. 20, 2020, the town board passed a proclamation creating the Irondequoit Commission Advancing Racial Equality (ICARE), which was to “recommend policies, procedures and practices for the town board’s consideration that (would) make the Irondequoit community more equitable,” according to Larimer’s decision.

ICARE was charged with submitting a report of recommendations for the board “to consider” that would help achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion, Larimer wrote.

The Proclamation was signed by all members of the board, including Seeley, Perticone and Romeo, and Freeman.

Seeley was a strong supporter of ICARE, and he backed Freeman’s efforts to develop practices and protocol.

“The board’s ardor and support of ICARE seemed to change during the summer of 2021. Several Board members, specifically Perticone and Romeo, challenged some of the specific items favored by (Freeman) concerning the role of ICARE,” Larimer wrote.

In the complaint, Freeman noted that Perticone and Romeo “changed their position” and declined to approve matters relating to ICARE, including the hiring of an assistant administrator, and to select the Urban League of Rochester as administrator of a first-time home buyer’s program initiated through ICARE.

Freeman submitted a preliminary budget for ICARE, but after a “heated debate,” the budget was never approved.

“To say the least, there was significant disagreement and discussion among board members as to precisely what ICARE was authorized to do and the extent to which the board would support matters relating to ICARE that had been suggested and presented by plaintiff,” Larimer wrote.

Freeman’s view of ICARE’s role differed dramatically from that of other board members, Larimer wrote.

Seeley was instrumental in creating ICARE and very supportive of the effort, but he suddenly resigned from the board in August 2021. He was replaced by Perticone as acting supervisor.

Without Seeley’s support, ICARE floundered and the initiative was challenged in many ways by other board members, Larimer wrote.

In November 2021, Supervisor Rory Fitzpatrick was elected.

“According to the complaint, he took an aggressive and hostile view toward ICARE,” Larimer wrote.

“Fitzpatrick apparently ignored plaintiff’s role as chair, rejected her argument concerning the Urban League, and sought to generally assert control over all aspects of ICARE,” Larimer wrote.

Freeman filed her complaint in March seeking damages, and a permanent injunction “enjoining and restraining interference with the operation of ICARE.”

“Plaintiff shows her true colors here: she wants the court to stop the board’s negative (in her view) decisions concerning ICARE. That is clearly something that this court cannot and should not do,” Larimer wrote.

“No matter how these claims are clothed, they clearly are designed to seek judicial intervention to correct and rectify the board’s negative actions involving ICARE,” Larimer wrote.

“Defendants have contended from the outset that this lawsuit is not truly about any violation of a constitutional right, but rather plaintiff’s attempt to use the Court to advance her legislative agenda that has, to some extent, been derailed by the board or some members of it,” Larimer wrote.

“Plaintiff essentially requests that the Court act as a super legislature and enjoin what plaintiff believes is the Board’s ‘interference’ with the operation of ICARE. This is not the proper role for a federal court,” he wrote.

“Plaintiff’s claims, which purport to raise constitutional issues, are really masquerading as a challenge to political disputes about policy, which is a matter for legislators and not the courts,” Larimer wrote.

In a news release, town officials wrote that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also has dismissed a complaint filed with that agency by Freeman.

“We are pleased that (Larimer) was able to see through these baseless claims and moved to dismiss this case,” Fitzpatrick said in the news release.

“This lawsuit was meant to divide our town board and community, but we never let it distract us from the important day-to-day business of addressing the concerns and needs of our residents,” he wrote.

Romeo said in the news release: “With this dismissal behind us, I’m hopeful that decorum will return to the dais and the Town can return to focusing on the business of the people.”

Perticone called on Freeman to resign.

“This frivolous lawsuit has cost our taxpayers and the Town money and time, not to mention the personal attacks that we have all had to endure,” he said in the news release.

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