A Philadelphia police officer has filed a pro se federal complaint against her commanding officer, a veteran captain with the department, over claims that the supervisor discriminated against her because of a physical condition.

Mary Caldwell filed her lawsuit Jan. 11 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Cpt. Lawrence Nodiff, as well as Lt. Nicholas Brown and the City of Philadelphia, over allegations that the defendants collectively violated the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act when they each discriminated against her on the basis of her disability.

Caldwell, an African American female, was hired by the Philadelphia Police Department in the summer of 1997.

In 2009, the lawsuit states, she was diagnosed with hypertension, which allegedly affects her daily activities due to its effects and the effects of her prescribed medications.

Effects of the disorder include bouts of dizziness, elevated blood pressure, severe headaches and muscle weakness and pain.

Caldwell claims that she made her superiors aware of the diagnosis in 2010, right around the time she was transferred to a new position with the South Detectives Division.

Caldwell says that she “verbally expressed” her disability and condition at the time she was asked about her sick time usage.

“I was told by Capt. Nodiff that he would not tolerate sick time usage from me, that he had heard about my sick time usage from my previous supervisor in my previous assignment,” Caldwell’s lawsuit states. “Multiple times after that occasion, when I was asked why I was out sick or hospitalized I explained to them again verbally and via doctor’s note about my disability.”

Nevertheless, the plaintiff claims, these explanations were disregarded and she was continually counseled with regard to her illness and use of sick time.

Caldwell claims that these actions constituted bias, and she offers an example in the complaint of a white male who used excessive sick time, but was still promoted to an assignment that had him working in Nodiff’s “5 Squad group,” which the plaintiff asserts is less stressful and “considered a rewarding and prized position.”

The plaintiff also offers other examples of preferential treatment by Nodiff with other white male subordinates.

In June 2011, Caldwell was admitted to the hospital where it was discovered she had been suffering from extremely high blood pressure, and she was given medications to prevent immediate heart attack and stroke, the lawsuit states.

Then, this past April, Caldwell fell ill while working her midnight-to-eight shift, at which time she believed she may have been suffering from a heart attack or stroke.

Caldwell again had to be taken for medical treatment after this year’s incident.

“My supervisors reacted negatively to my sick time usage due to my disability by written and verbal counseling about my illness, sick usage and sub sequential squad change as punishment for using my sick time …,” the lawsuit states.

Her change of squad, Caldwell claims, affected her ability to maintain regular check-ups with her physicians, and thereby puts her health at further risk.

Caldwell claims that certain white male employees who used sick time were not transferred to different assignments or “sick checked” at home or in the hospital, but the plaintiff was because, she contends, she is a black female.

Caldwell seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for the alleged retaliatory acts conducted by her supervisors and for the other discrimination at the hands of the defendants.

Caldwell does not appear to be represented by legal counsel at this point in time.


The federal case number is 2:13-cv-00162-JD. 

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