Judge partly grants, partly denies city's motion to dismiss suit by police officer

By Jon Campisi | Jan 4, 2012

A federal judge in Philadelphia has granted in part and denied in part a motion by the city to dismiss an employment discrimination complaint filed by a municipal police officer who alleges she was discriminated against when her superiors arbitrarily refused her request to attend church services while on duty.

Robin Middleton, who has been a 9th Police District officer since February 2007, had filed suit in June against the City of Philadelphia, Police Sgt. Robert DeBlasis and Police Cpl. Karen Church, alleging First Amendment retaliation, racial discrimination and employment discrimination.

The suit had claimed that Middleton, a black female and practicing Christian Baptist, was harassed by DeBlasis and Church because of her religious views. The alleged harassment took place between 2008 and late 2010.

Middleton alleged that until October 2010, she had regularly attended church services while on duty if there was low activity, something that was allowed under an “established practice” of the 9th Police District.

In October 2010, however, Church, with DeBlasis’ knowledge, suddenly refused to allow Middleton to attend the religious services.

White male police officers in the 9th District, however, were allowed to attend church services, and thus Middleton claimed she was being treated unfairly.

Throughout late 2010, Middleton had various interactions with superiors over her situation. She eventually filed a discrimination charged with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In early March of this year, Middleton sustained an on-duty injury. Following the incident, Middleton claimed in her suit, DeBlasis and Church refused to make out an injury report or give Middleton a referral to the hospital in violation of police directives. After the hospital asked Middleton for a referral, the officer had to obtain one from a previous sergeant. She has been out of work ever since, the suit claims.

In his memorandum, U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois dismissed the First Amendment retaliation claim in Middleton’s lawsuit, ruling that Middleton did not “speak on a matter of public concern,” which is a legal standard required of such a claim.

“Plaintiff has not claimed that any other officers were subject to discrimination, and thus failed to allege a ‘wider pattern of inappropriate conduct,’” the judge wrote. “Instead, plaintiff ‘complain[s] solely about [her] own abuse and mistreatment by superiors,’ which is not a matter of public concern.”

DuBois denied the rest of the defendants’ motion to dismiss, including the motion seeking dismissal of the plaintiff’s racial discrimination claim as well as the municipal liability claim.

The judge also denied the part of the defendants’ motion seeking dismissal of the employment discrimination and retaliation claim under the Civil Rights Act.

Lastly, a claim alleging violations of the Philadelphia Human Relations Act was also allowed to move forward.

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