By Ashwin Madia, Attorney, on February 22, 2012
Posted in 42 U.S.C. 1983, Federal District Court - Minnesota, Hostile Work Environment, Madia Law News, Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), Sexual Orientation Discrimination, ticker, Title VII
For nearly three years, Sean Lathrop was a star of the St. Cloud Police Department. Known as the “Golden Boy,” Officer Lathrop earned superlative performance evaluations, garnered high recommendations from community members, and quickly advanced to positions of responsibility.
Officer Lathrop’s ascent within the Department came to an abrupt end on May 12, 2009, when he disclosed his sexual orientation and requested to serve as an openly gay officer at the Minneapolis Gay Pride Parade. Within six months of that date, the Department disciplined Officer Lathrop five times, subjected him to three internal investigations, removed him from multiple positions of responsibility, placed him on a performance improvement plan, and awarded him the lowest possible marks on his performance evaluation. Officer Lathrop ultimately resigned from his position.
Madia Law filed a complaint in federal district court on behalf of Officer Lathrop in June 2010. The Complaint alleged that through its employment actions against Officer Lathrop, the St. Cloud Police Department discriminated based on sexual orientation and violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the First Amendment (guaranteeing the right of all Americans to associate with (and love) whoever they choose). Unfortunately, Title VII – the federal statutory scheme that prohibits discrimination in employment based on race and other criteria – offers no protection based on sexual orientation.
After a year and a half of litigation, the St. Cloud Police Department moved for summary judgment and asked the Court to dismiss Officer Lathrop’s case. The Court refused, stating:
Because the Court finds that genuine issues of material fact exist with respect to Plaintiff’s Equal Protection claim and his MHRA discrimination and retaliation claims, Defendants are not entitled to summary judgment on these claims. It appears to the Court that the turning point in this case was May 2009, when Plaintiff disclosed his sexual orientation to the Department. Before May 2009, Plaintiff’s superiors recommended him to a master’s degree program, awarded him the School Resource Officer position, and consistently gave him favorable performance reviews. After May 2009, Plaintiff was subject to almost constant disciplinary actions. Defendants argue that the increased disciplinary measures taken against Plaintiff were unrelated to Plaintiff’s sexual orientation. It seems to the Court, however, that an overnight metamorphosis is unlikely, and the Court concludes that a reasonable jury could find that Defendants discriminated against Plaintiff as a result of his sexual orientation.
Shortly after the Court’s order, the St. Cloud Police Department reached a settlement with Sean Lathrop.
I was honored to represent Sean – he is a brave and decent young man who found the courage to step up and fight for his basic rights. I will be always be grateful that he let Madia Law fight alongside him.
Please note that every case is different, with its own unique facts. Just because Sean received a settlement in his case does not mean that you will receive a settlement in your case. You should contact Madia Law to discuss your sexual orientation discrimination case in detail and get an accurate assessment of its value.