A 12-year corrections officer at the Schenectady County jail is suing the sheriff’s department and county, alleging she has been repeatedly shut out of promotions because of her race and gender.
Tanya Hull, who is black, has worked at the jail since 2002. She alleges in the suit that she has been denied promotions to the position of corrections sergeant five times since 2012 in favor of candidates who were white men. The suit was filed this week in U.S. District Court in Albany.
She also alleges each of the successful white male candidates had promotional exam scores either equal to or lower than the score Hull achieved on the exam.
Hull alleges that when she complained about what she contends were improper failures to promote her, the department retaliated by fabricating disciplinary incidents she was later cleared of and harassing her, creating a hostile work environment.
“In each of these five instances in which Ms. Hull was denied promotions, the Department’s decision was impermissibly based on her race and gender, rather than on permissible criteria,” the suit reads.
The suit also alleges that reasons given to her for failing to promote her were pretexts upon which to pass her over.
Named as defendants are Schenectady County and the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department. She is seeking at least $1,1 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Contacted Thursday evening, Schenectady County Attorney Christopher Gardner said he hadn’t seen the suit and couldn’t comment on specifics. Regarding the discrimination allegations in general, Gardner said the county and sheriff oppose discrimination and the allegations will be investigated.
Sheriff Dominic Dagostino said he’s confident the case will play out in the county’s favor. He declined to comment further.
Hull, of Schenectady, started work for the department in March 2002. Unrelated to her work at the jail or the lawsuit, Hull was elected to a seat on the Schenectady City School District Board of Education earlier this year.
She is being represented in the suit by Hudson attorney Philip Wellner.
According to the suit, Hull contends the department has never promoted a black woman from the rank of corrections officer to sergeant. She also alleges that in recent decades, the department has only promoted two black men to that rank.
Regarding female sergeants, she contends there is only one currently, with just one other in the recent past.
Hull contends the promotion process began in October 2010, when she and others took the promotional exam. Interviews didn’t take place until the summer of 2012.
Hull was interviewed Aug. 1, 2012. She contends she was praised by those conducting the interview, including Dagostino, as one of the best candidates they’d seen.
Just three days later, though, came an incident Hull contends was overblown and used as a pretext to repeatedly deny her a promotion. She brought a bottle of wine in a gift bag to give to a nurse for the nurse’s birthday, the intention being that the nurse would then take it back out to her car.
As she waited for the nurse to get off the phone, the bottle fell and broke. No inmates were in the area, she contends. The glass was removed and an inmate trustee was brought to clean up the liquid. A different officer alerted a sergeant and that sergeant alerted a lieutenant.
Hull contends she received a “record of counseling” as a result, but no other disciplinary action was taken. It was not written up in her civil service file, according to the suit.
Three days after the bottle incident, a white male candidate was appointed sergeant. Hull contends she was told she was denied promotion based on the bottle incident.
“Despite the fact that the August 4 incident does not appear in her civil service file, the Department seized on this one incident as pretext to deny Ms. Hull four promotions that she has applied for in the two years since, even though she was the highest-scoring and most senior applicant each time,” the suit reads.
Hull contends only one successful candidate equaled her score on the test.
She alleges she saw another employee bring what appeared to be a wine bottle in a gift bag through the jail’s visiting section with no discipline. As described in the suit, that incident did not involve the bottle breaking, however.
She also alleges that a later minor disagreement with a sergeant was also used to deny her promotion.
The suit is the second filed this year related to the sheriff’s department and allegations of race discrimination. Scotia shop owner Donald Andrews was arrested on drug charges and later cleared after an informant used in the case was found to have fabricated the allegations. Andrews alleged in his suit, which remains pending, that he was targeted in part based on his race.
Gardner, the county attorney, has said there was no bad faith on the part of the department in that case. The informant was the one who committed the illegal acts.