Discrimination lawsuit against OCA dismissed

January 4, 2013 By Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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A Manhattan court officer who filed a discrimination lawsuit against her employer and other court personnel has voluntarily dismissed all claims and withdrew her action.  

In October 2012, Nikki Sterling, an African-American female, filed a Title VII lawsuit against the New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA), the New York State Unified Court System, the New York State Court Officers Association (NYSCOA) and many persons in their individual capacity.

Title VII, a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protects employees from discrimination in the workplace based on race, sex, color, national origin or religion.  An employee who has experienced such discrimination may be entitled to money damages or other forms of relief such as promotions or certain accommodations.  Sterling asserted that her Title VII claim found its basis in the alleged unequal terms of her employment, retaliation by her employer, and other acts of defamation, bullying, and harassment in the workplace.  

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In her lawsuit, Sterling claims that she was “denied light duty by the Civil Court Chief Clerkthough white and Latino officers [had] been granted light duty.” Furthermore, Sterling alleged “there are few African-American supervisors  very few African American supervisors” and disparate promotion opportunities offered to African-American court officers as compared to their Caucasian counterparts.

During a hearing presided over by federal judge Hon. Andrew Peck, it became clear to the court and the defendants that Sterling’s lawsuit was convoluted and did not present any clear cause of action. Serving as her own attorney, Sterling, in a 55-page complaint, sought “$5 million in damages, the promotion of Sterling to a permanent position of Court Officer Captain,” and “the promotion of more African-American female officers.”

“There were many flaws with Ms. Sterling’s lawsuit,” said Bruce Baron, a Brooklyn attorney representing the New York State Court Officers Association. “First and foremost, Ms. Sterling sued Dennis Quirk, the president of NYSCOA, individually. Under Title VII, an individual cannot be sued.”  

Judge Peck attempted to assist Sterling in areas where a pro se plaintiff would conceivably get confused.  “You cannot have a Title VII claim against someone who is not your employer,” Hon. Peck said to Sterling in effort to assist her.  “In addition to suing Mr. Quirk as an individual, Ms. Sterling sued NYSCOA, the court officers’ union. The union is not Ms. Sterling’s employer,” continued Baron.

“I was taken aback when presented with the lawsuit,” Quirk told the Eagle.  “Many people file these Title VII discrimination lawsuits as an extortion tactic. I know that we did nothing wrong, so I called on Mr. Baron to help us fight the case,” continued Quirk.  

During her November hearing with Hon. Peck, Sterling was advised of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under Rule 11, “Anyone who brings a frivolous claim can and should be sanctioned for it including, the attorney’s fees incurred by the defendant,” he noted.   Given that many of the defendants sued by Sterling were inappropriate, Judge Peck warned Sterling to “think long and hard about who you are suing.”

After taking the holidays to do such thinking, Sterling summarily dismissed her lawsuit against all defendants.  

“We view this as a victory,” Baron told the Eagle. “Title VII is a great tool to address actual acts of employment discrimination. It is not, however, a tool to force money out of employers and other organizations.”  

In response to the lawsuit, Arlene Hackel, deputy director of communications for OCA,  reiterated its stance on equal employment opportunities. “It is the policy of the UCS to ensure equal employment opportunity for all employees and applicants for employment, without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, creed, sex (including freedom from sexual harassment), sexual orientation, age, marital status, disability, or, in certain circumstances, prior criminal record.”

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