A Hispanic investigator has filed a federal lawsuit against the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, claiming his superior officers tried to prevent him from filing a racial discrimination case and then retaliated against him when he disregarded their request.
In the nine-page lawsuit, Gabriel Rodriguez, a 13-year veteran of the department, claims he was subjected to racially inflammatory comments from Inspector Douglas Miller over several years and then urged to “keep the issue in-house” in February 2009 by Craig Apple, who was then the chief deputy. After Rodriguez filed a complaint with the county’s Division of Affirmative Action a short time later, he claims Miller and other department administrators began retaliating against him on the job.
Among other things, Rodriguez claims Apple made “adverse comments” about him and another supervisor threatened him. On another occasion, he accused the department of commencing an unlawful disciplinary action against him that resulted in a short suspension and a demotion in rank — actions later overturned by the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court.
“Defendants have created a hostile work environment for [Rodriguez],” states the lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court Northern District of New York. “Defendants engaged in the foregoing conduct because [Rodriguez] engaged in protected activity.”
Albany County Attorney Thomas Marcelle said he hadn’t been served with the lawsuit, but was confident it won’t go very far at the federal level. He said a similar complaint Rodriguez made last year was dismissed by the state Division of Human Rights and then by a state Supreme Court justice after the investigator appealed the decision.
“We are confident the federal court will rule against him,” he said Tuesday. “This is a case he’s already lost twice.”
Rodriguez, who was the department’s only Hispanic deputy until 2011, claims in the lawsuit that Miller started making derogatory comments toward him starting in 2001. In February 2009, he claims, Miller blocked him from entering the department, claiming in front of other workers that “there are no minorities allowed in this office,” the lawsuit states.
Rodriguez reported the incident the following day and was told a “formal complaint is unnecessary,” according to the lawsuit. But the investigator filed a formal complaint anyway, touching off a series of retaliatory actions that continued for years, the lawsuit states.
Rodriguez filed a complaint with the state in January 2011 and entered into a conciliation agreement with the department the following month, stating among other things that the administration would take no further discriminatory or retaliatory action against him. Then in September 2011, the department filed a disciplinary action against Rodriguez for making a secret recording of an internal meeting among investigators that was leaked to the news media.
The recording made by Rodriguez surfaced in the media in June 2011, while Apple was a candidate to replace resigning Sheriff James Campbell. On the recording, Apple uses profanity and discusses manipulating the law.
Rodriguez filed another human rights claim against the department with the state and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in June 2012. That complaint was dismissed in February.
Last month, the Appellate Division ruled the department had exceeded its 18-month window to bring charges against Rodriguez and that his actions didn’t amount to official misconduct. The disciplinary case against the investigator was filed 21 months after the recording was made.
Rodriguez continues to work with the department as an investigator.