One of a pair of lawsuits against members of the Darien Police Department continues forward after a federal court ruling that allegations of unlawful gender discrimination and retaliation contain enough merit to put in front of a jury.
Former DPD Officer Stacy Miller filed her complaint in December 2017, four months after a similar lawsuit by Korone Robinson, another former officer with whom she was in a relationship. They alleged racial and — on Miller’s part — gender discrimination by DPD leadership that occurred because of opposition to their relationship. Robinson is black, and Miller is white.
The pair began dating at some point in 2014 or 2015, but the timeline is in dispute, though regardless, at one point they were the only investigators in the Darien criminal investigations unit, supervised by Ryan Alexander. Also, at some point, Alexander issued an order that Robinson and Miller couldn’t ride together in the same work vehicle.
In her order, U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood quoted Alexander’s deposition, in which he said, “(W)e were a two-man investigative unit, and I didn’t want something to happen and both of my investigators be in one car at one spot and I had to wait for them to go to the office, swap vehicles and get to where they needed to be.… And the No. 2 reason … was I did not want something to be occurring with both of them in the same vehicle, and instead one of them handling duties at the time, be worried about protecting the other one.”
Regardless, Robinson and Miller continued to ride in the same vehicle. Miller was under the impression Robinson went back and received permission from Alexander.
According to the order, “On some occasions Miller tried unsuccessfully to contact Alexander to request permission to ride with Robinson; however, she often found Alexander inaccessible. … According to Miller, Alexander was often ‘nonexistent,’ being out of contact for extended periods of time.”
As to the gender discrimination claims, Miller said she was given unreasonable assignments not expected of similarly situated male officers. For instance, she was moved to a 4 p.m.-midnight shift allegedly without explanation, and “ultimately found it impracticable to work the evening shift because some of her duties required her to interact with institutions that were only open during the day, such as the bank, the judiciary and the district attorney’s office.”
She said she further couldn’t accomplish these duties because of the department’s opposition to overtime. A project she was ordered to accomplish involving a scanning system in the evidence room also ended up falling apart because of an inability to coordinate with others on scheduling that Miller said was outside of her control.
Additional issues cropped up involving work vehicles, a long gun and K-9 training, along with pay, other duties and promotions. Specifically, that her assigned vehicles weren’t properly equipped, she wasn’t assigned a long gun like other officers and specifically deprived of K-9 training because of her size and gender. Also, she alleges being paid less than similarly situated officers, and men with less experience receiving promotions before her.
Miller filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February 2016, and afterward received a demotion and could no longer use a city vehicle for personal use. That led to a series of meetings between Miller and various officials, a number of which she recorded. She later withdrew the complaint, stating she received a promotion and use of a vehicle. Wood quoted some of Miller’s ongoing concerns.
“I stand by all the allegation in both my equal opportunity complaint and the grievance that I filed with Darien Police Department, but I feel that it is in my best interest to try to move forward,” Miller wrote. “After multiple threats of having GBI investigate me for false statements, the threat of losing my job, and the turmoil that this complaint has caused among my department, I feel that continuing with the complaint will only add undue stress to the situation.
“It has been difficult to proceed with the work that needs to be done when constantly being called into meetings to discuss this complaint.”
With Robinson’s discharge from DPD in the summer of 2016, Miller sought employment elsewhere ahead of possible additional termination. She took another law enforcement position, and left DPD altogether as she wasn’t going to be allowed to accrue retirement while working part-time and she declined a full-time patrol position. Miller then filed another EEOC charge in March 2017. EECO issued a right to sue letter, which was followed by the filing of this action in federal district court.
In dismissing Miller’s claims of racial discrimination, Wood states the factual basis behind Miller’s EEOC complaints supports that kind of discrimination.
“Nor would her complaints that males were given better treatment reasonably put an EEOC investigator on notice that he or show should search for evidence of racial discrimination,” Wood wrote. “To be sure, nothing on the face of Miller’s charge even makes her race — or the race of her coworkers — apparent.”
In addressing gender discrimination claims, Wood goes over the lengthy and detailed allegations made by Miller before concluding that the plaintiff has made her case as far as passing muster in summary judgment.
“In the aggregate, these instances tend to show a pattern of behavior that, viewed in a light most favorable to Miller, could cause a reasonable jury to conclude that she was discriminated against on the basis of gender,” Wood wrote. “Accordingly, the court finds that Miller has established a prima facie case of gender discrimination under Title VII.”
The burden of proof then moved to the defense to show non-discriminatory reasons for their actions, but the defense came up short here.
“Though Miller’s education is not a dispositive factor that necessarily rendered her more qualified than her predecessor and successor, each (of) whom had more experience, a (reasonable) jury could find, based on all the facts presented, that the DPD paid her less not because her colleagues had more experience, but rather because she was a woman,” Wood wrote.
Wood also granted partial summary judgment in Robinson’s lawsuit in April, in which she ruled that case can continue against only Alexander and DPD Chief Donnie Howard.