Morris v. N.Y.S. Police

Decision Date08 August 2017
Docket Number1:16–CV–164
Citation268 F.Supp.3d 342
Parties Shannon MORRIS, an individual, Melissa Lee, an individual, and Kevin Rafferty, an individual, Plaintiffs, v. NEW YORK STATE POLICE, Margaret Nancy Poulin, individually and in her official capacity as New York State Police Captain, Timothy Munro, individually and in his official capacity as New York State Police Major, Julie A. Pizziketti, individually and in her official capacity as Director of Biological Science, New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center, Ray Wickenheiser, individually and in his official capacity as Director, Crime Lab System, New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center, Superintendent Joseph D'Amico, individually and in his official capacity as Superintendent of the New York State Police, and Steve Hogan, individually and in his official capacity as First Deputy Counsel of the New York State Police, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of New York

BAILEY, JOHNSON PC, Attorneys for Plaintiffs, OF COUNSEL: JOHN W. BAILEY, ESQ., CRYSTAL R. PECK, ESQ., 5 Pine West Plaza, Suite 507, Washington Avenue Extension, Albany, NY 12205

HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, New York State Attorney General, Attorneys for Defendant, OF COUNSEL: MARIA E. LISI–MURRAY, ESQ., SHANNAN C. KRASNOKUTSKI, ESQ., Ass't Attorneys General, The Capitol, Albany, NY 12224


DAVID N. HURD, United States District Judge





B. 42 U.S.C. § 1983...360
D. Common Law Claims...369



Plaintiffs Shannon Morris ("Morris"), Melissa Lee ("Lee"), and Kevin Rafferty ("Rafferty") (collectively "plaintiffs") have filed this civil rights action against the New York State Police (the "State Police"); State Police Captain Margaret Nancy Poulin ("Captain Poulin"); State Police Major Timothy Munro ("Major Munro"); Julie A. Pizziketti, the Director of the State Police Forensic Investigation Center's (the "Crime Lab") Biological Sciences Division ("Director Pizziketti"); Ray Wickenheiser, the Director of the Crime Lab ("Director Wickenheiser"); State Police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico ("Superintendent D'Amico"); and Steve Hogan, First Deputy Counsel of the State Police ("Deputy Counsel Hogan") (collectively "defendants").

Plaintiffs' proposed pleading1 enumerates eighteen causes of action against defendants based on federal and state law that fall into three broad categories: (1) claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging retaliation for the exercise of their First Amendment rights (First, Second, and Eleventh Causes of Action) and in violation of their Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution (Twelfth Cause of Action) as well as under Article 1, Section 11 of the New York State Constitution (Fourteenth Cause of Action); (2) claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and related state law for gender discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment (Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Thirteenth Causes of Action); and (3) claims under state law for defamation and libel (Fifteenth, Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Causes of Action).

On April 25, 2016, defendants moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 12(b)(6) seeking to dismiss plaintiffs' then-operative complaint in its entirety for failure to state any claims upon which relief could be granted. Plaintiffs opposed and cross-moved to amend their complaint. Defendants replied and opposed the motion to amend. Both motions have been fully briefed and have been considered on the basis of the submissions without oral argument.


Between 1996 and 1997, the State Police hired Morris, Lee, and Rafferty to work as forensic scientists at its Crime Lab in Albany, New York. Pls.' Proposed Second Am. Compl. ("Compl.") ¶¶ 3–4, 28–29, 50–51, 110. Lee and Rafferty, who each held the title of "Supervisor of Forensic Sciences," worked directly under Morris, an Associate Director of Biological Sciences at the Crime Lab. Id. ¶¶ 4, 29–30, 51–52. And although Director Pizziketti was only an Assistant Director of the Crime Lab at the time, plaintiffs claim she was widely considered to be the facility's "de facto" leader. See id. ¶¶ 5, 85, 253, 257. Accordingly, Morris is alleged to have reported directly to Pizziketti. See id.

Forensic scientists employed by the Crime Lab are responsible for analyzing DNA and other evidence collected during criminal investigations. Compl. ¶¶ 110–11. During the time period relevant to this action, the Crime Lab used the Combined Probability of Inclusion ("CPI") method of evaluating DNA samples. Id. ¶ 114.

As plaintiffs explain, the CPI method has a subjective component to it, creating a risk that a scientist who examines a suspect's DNA profile before analyzing an unknown DNA sample recovered from a crime scene (a practice referred to as "suspect-centric" analysis) might improperly determine that the two are a match. Compl. ¶¶ 116, 125–27. Plaintiffs further allege that the CPI method is unable to accurately distinguish between two DNA samples if they are from related individuals. Id. ¶ 126.

According to plaintiffs, these shortcomings in the CPI method have drawn criticism from the leading scientific agencies in charge of promulgating training and standards for evaluating DNA evidence. Compl. ¶¶ 115–116, 132–143.

Notably, however, the CPI method is not the only DNA analysis tool available. In 2001, the State of New York entered into a contract with a private company to train forensic scientists at the Crime Lab in how to use a more advanced, computerized DNA system known as "TrueAllele." Compl. ¶ 158–160. Plaintiffs allege that TrueAllele removes the subjective, interpretive component from the analysis of DNA crime scene evidence and claim that it is considered a superior method of analysis by the scientific accrediting agencies mentioned above. Id. ¶ 162.

Between 2001 and 2014, the State Police took steps to replace the CPI method with TrueAllele at the Crime Lab under the leadership of Dr. Barry Duceman, who served as Director of the facility at the time. Compl. ¶¶ 158, 166, 258. During the period of time this implementation process overlapped with their respective terms of employment, Morris, Lee, and Rafferty allege they were vocal advocates in favor of adopting the TrueAllele DNA evaluation method. Id. ¶¶ 9, 33, 54–55. Plaintiffs also allege that they were openly critical of certain Crime Lab administrators, including Director Pizziketti, who failed to support the transition to TrueAllele.3 Id. ¶¶ 129–30, 154–56. In fact, plaintiffs allege that Director Pizziketti "routinely encouraged" her fellow scientists to use "suspect-centric" DNA analysis despite the well-known, widespread criticism toward that approach. Id.

At some point in 2013, Dr. Barry Duceman was replaced as head of the Crime Lab by Director Wickenheiser, marking a shift in workplace politics that would ultimately give rise to plaintiffs' lawsuit. Compl. ¶ 258. From then on, Director Pizziketti reported to Director Wickenheiser and Major Munro. See id. ¶ 292. According to plaintiffs, Director Pizziketti and Director Wickenheiser routinely allowed Crime Lab scientists to "testify to questionable DNA results" in criminal proceedings. Id. ¶ 156. Plaintiffs further allege that Deputy Counsel Hogan was aware of, and also "approved" of, this questionable practice. Id. ¶ 157.

According to plaintiffs, Director Pizziketti began to mistreat and bully other female scientists, aggressively disciplining female scientists who violated protocols but failing to mete out similar punishment to male employees. Compl. ¶¶ 253–56, 259–63. Plaintiffs further allege that Director Pizziketti would "yell, grunt[,] and snarl" at them, assign Morris extra work assignments, and purposefully exclude and isolate her in the workplace. Id. ¶¶ 278–279. Plaintiffs contend Director Pizziketti would also "publicly humiliate" Morris at staff meetings "by undermining her competency and yelling, groaning[,] and scowling" at her during work presentations. Id. ¶ 280.

Between 2013 and 2014, plaintiffs reported this behavior to various members of the administration, who directed Major Munro to conduct a mediation session in 2014 in an effort to curtail Director Pizziketti's behavior. Compl. ¶¶ 282–286, 290. Even after the mediation session, however, Director Pizziketti's alleged misconduct continued. Id. ¶ 291.

To make matters worse, plaintiffs allege that Director Pizziketti, Director Wickenheiser, Deputy Counsel Hogan, and Superintendent D'Amico deliberately set out to undermine the Crime Lab's implementation of TrueAllele because these administrators feared it would expose the fact that prosecutors and the State Police had knowingly been using inaccurate DNA results to prosecute certain criminal cases.4 Compl. ¶¶ 167, 172–77.

Eventually, the State Police's long-planned implementation of the TrueAllele DNA program required a series of group training courses in which thirty-seven forensic scientists, including plaintiffs, were taught how to use TrueAllele. Compl. ¶¶ 181–83. During this training period, plaintiffs allege that the scientist-trainees were permitted and encouraged to collaborate with each other. Id. ¶ 193. According to plaintiffs, permissible collaboration included "sharing pretests, sharing informational binders, sharing lessons and answers to lessons," and "assisting one another to answer questions on the examinations." Id. ¶ 194. Plaintiffs allege that this collaboration "was common knowledge within the Crime Lab and was accepted by the Crime Lab's leadership." Id. ¶ 193. Morris,...

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