Attorneys for the city of Hyattsville have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit by former city police officer Marsha Lessard alleging a pattern of workplace sexual harassment at the city police department.
The motion to dismiss, filed late last week in U.S. District Court in Maryland, argues that while there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact" alleged in the lawsuit, Lessard waited too long to file her complaints for the suit to be considered.
The City's Side
In filing for motion to dismiss, the city submitted dozens of pages of internal memos that shed light on many of Lessard's allegations from the point of view of the Hyattsville Police Department.
Most notably, the documents confirm that the city asked the Maryland State Police to investigate allegations that Lessard was sexually assaulted by Sgt. Pat O'Hagan, local Fraternal Order of Police president, during an August 2007 national FOP conference in Louisville, KY. Following the state police investigation, the city pursued administrative disciplinary charges against O'Hagan. The specific nature of those disciplinary charges was not revealed.
Those allegations form a key part of Lessard's lawsuit, which goes on to allege that city police supervisors perpetuated a sexually hostile work environment by placing Lessard under O'Hagan's command months after the 2007 FOP conference.
But in court documents, the city said that Lessard did not notify her supervisors of the alleged sexual assault until five months later in January of 2008. Then, in February 2008, when Lessard was set to be transferred to O'Hagan's command, the city said that she did not reveal the full nature of the alleged sexual assault.
A 2009 city response to a sexual harassment complaint filed by Lessard with the Prince George's County Human Rights Commission said that she described the FOP conference incident as O'Hagan making "a pass at her."
The document goes on to say that Lessard declined to provide more information and accepted the transfer under the condition that she later be transferred to a new patrol squad whose formation was being considered at the time.
Lessard's lawsuit also alleged that she was subjected to administrative retaliation after hiring a lawyer in September 2008 in regard to her complaints of sexual harassment in the city police department. Her lawsuit cited a November 2008 internal affairs investigation against Lessard for using improper language as evidence of retaliation.
In documents filed with the motion to dismiss, attorneys for the city argued that the internal affairs investigation was legitimate because of behavior by Lessard during an April 2008 traffic stop in which Lessard's car was side-swiped by a passing motorist. They also noted that no disciplinary action was taken and the case ended in Lessard's favor.
Lessard alleges that her dismissal from her job in May 2009 was also retaliatory. Her dismissal came after a long period in which Lessard was on either administrative leave, disability leave with pay or family medical leave.
The stretch of leave began in late October 2008. After Lessard told superiors she dreaded going to work, the city scheduled her for a fitness-for-duty evaluation with a psychologist selected by the city.
The psychologist diagnosed her with post traumatic stress disorder stemming from the alleged 2007 sexual assault at the FOP conference and declared her unfit for duty. Lessard was placed on paid medical leave until Feb. 6, when the city revoked her medical leave because she did not provide any documented medical updates on her condition.
She was then placed on leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, which provided up to three months of unpaid leave.
When Lessard did not return in May 2009, she was considered unable to perform her duties and was let go, according to court documents. The city personnel manual allows city employees to be "involuntarily retired" if they are unable to return to duty after six months, a date which had passed for Lessard by late April 2009.
In March of 2009, Lessard filed an initial discrimination complaint with the Prince George's County Human Rights Commission and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The federal workplace sexual harassment law under which Lessard brought suit requires one to exhaust all local administrative remedies before a sexual harassment lawsuit can be brought in court. The city fought the initial charges, which are roughly identical to the complaints contained in Lessard's current lawsuit.
In asking for dismissal, attorneys for the city of Hyattsville noted that all of Lessard's hostile work environment allegations fell outside of a 300-day deadline to begin to take administrative action on a sexual harassment complaint.
"Any discriminatory acts that occurred outside of the 300-day window, or prior to May, 21, 2008, are time-barred," according to the memo in support of the motion to dismiss the lawsuit. "[Lessard] did not allege in her charge any specific act, ommission or other conduct that contributed to a hostile work environment on or after May 21, 2008."
Lessard has faced this argument in the case in the past.
In March 2012, three years after Lessard first filed a complaint, the county Human Rights Commission issued its ruling, determining that Lessard's hostile work environment charge was invalid because too much time had passed before she filed her complaint.The commission also determined that there was no evidence to support her allegations of retaliation.
Soon after, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission adopted the findings of the Prince George's County Human Relations Commission, dismissing the complaint and granting Lessard her right to sue for damages.
Less than a month later, in late June, Lessard filed her lawsuit.