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Jury rejects Niskayuna gender bias claim

Jury rejects Niskayuna gender bias claim

Gender played no role in a 2005 Niskayuna police lieutenant’s promotion, a federal court jury found

Gender played no role in a 2005 Niskayuna police lieutenant’s promotion, a federal court jury found Friday.

The jury also found there was no retaliation against Sgt. Frances Wall for filing her federal gender bias civil suit when she was passed over for another promotion two years later.

The jury in U.S. District Court in Binghamton returned the verdict after about four hours of deliberations and just over three days of testimony.

Wall declined to comment after the verdict was returned. Her attorney, Richard Walsh, said they would discuss their options, including a possible appeal.

“Obviously we’re disappointed,” Walsh said. “The verdict speaks for itself. At this point, we’ll try and pick up and go forward.”

Kenneth Pitcoff, the attorney representing the town, said, “We think justice was served.”

Niskayuna Supervisor Joe Landry praised the verdict in a statement.

“We are pleased with today’s verdict,” Landry said. “As we move forward now, it is important to me that the town maintain a workplace that values and respects the rights of all of its employees, and that is in full compliance with all laws regarding discrimination.”

Wall, 49, a 23-year veteran of the department, filed suit against the town in 2007 in U.S. District Court seeking damages for alleged gender discrimination.

The case focused on the 2005 promotion of then-Sgt. Stanley Fiminski to lieutenant from a civil service list that was invalid because it contained the names of only two candidates; three are needed for a valid list.

Wall also claimed retaliation in the denial of a promotion she sought in 2007 to detective sergeant.

The case has included allegations of past misconduct in the department, including claims that breasts were drawn on a female officer’s locker and on a threatening note left on Wall’s car.

The jury gave no indication as to how the verdict was reached, but did ask that Police Chief Lewis Moskowitz’ testimony be read back to them on the topic of allegations of retaliation. The jury also wanted to know if Wall actually had any interest in the 2007 promotion.

It was Moskowitz, along with Fiminski, who were targeted in the plaintiff’s case, with Pitcoff telling the jury that Wall’s attorneys were trying to make them into “monsters.”

Fiminski’s disciplinary record was entered into evidence, which Pitcoff characterized as two trumped-up charges related to parking and a complaint about a “curt” e-mail.

Pitcoff hammered in his closing arguments that the past allegations were brought in to distract the jury from the actual issue: Who was the better candidate for lieutenant, Fiminski or Wall? Many of the other allegations had nothing to do with Wall, Pitcoff argued.

There was no evidence that Moskowitz was biased against Wall, he said. “They have one incident where he cursed at her, over 20 years,” Pitcoff told the jury, noting that incident was not about gender. “That’s all they have in this case to show he treated her any differently [from] anybody else. That’s it.”

Regarding worthiness for the job, Pitcoff argued that the positions were paperwork- and leadership-intensive. Wall, he said, had problems completing paperwork and said in the lieutenant job interview that she was too lenient with officers, but was working on it.

Wall’s attorney, Walsh, argued that the interview process was a sham, designed to prevent a woman from attaining the high post. Walsh argued that Moskowitz’ bias was subtle.

The chief testified himself that the interviews were a major factor in his decision to promote Fiminski, but Walsh pointed out he never asked the candidates about their disciplinary records. Wall’s record was clean, he said, but Fiminski’s was not.

The interviews, Walsh argued, “were used as a cover-up, to allow him to do what he wanted to do …”

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