Snell v. Suffolk County, Nos. 558

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore KAUFMAN, TIMBERS, and NEWMAN; IRVING R. KAUFMAN
Citation782 F.2d 1094
Parties39 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 1590, 39 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 35,836, 54 USLW 2408 Clement A. SNELL, Willie Lawrence, Oscar Byrd, John Hammond, Raymond Ramos, James Henderson, and Victor Delgado, For Themselves and All Persons Similarly Situated, Toni L. Jackson, William M. Berry, Leonard A. Hopson, Ronald Williams, Walter L. Richardson, Vincent Richardson, James B. Richardson, Anna Lewis, Camellia Turpin, Darlene Pressley, Joseph E. Neal, Paulette Trent, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. SUFFOLK COUNTY, A Municipal Corporation Organized pursuant to the Laws of the State of New York, and John P. Finnerty, as Sheriff of Suffolk County, Defendants, John P. Finnerty, As Sheriff of Suffolk County, Defendant-Appellant. ockets 85-7455, 85-7499.
Docket NumberD,687,Nos. 558
Decision Date22 January 1986

Page 1094

782 F.2d 1094
39 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 1590,
39 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 35,836, 54 USLW 2408
Clement A. SNELL, Willie Lawrence, Oscar Byrd, John Hammond,
Raymond Ramos, James Henderson, and Victor Delgado, For
Themselves and All Persons Similarly Situated, Toni L.
Jackson, William M. Berry, Leonard A. Hopson, Ronald
Williams, Walter L. Richardson, Vincent Richardson, James B.
Richardson, Anna Lewis, Camellia Turpin, Darlene Pressley,
Joseph E. Neal, Paulette Trent, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
SUFFOLK COUNTY, A Municipal Corporation Organized pursuant
to the Laws of the State of New York, and John P.
Finnerty, as Sheriff of Suffolk County, Defendants,
John P. Finnerty, As Sheriff of Suffolk County, Defendant-Appellant.
Nos. 558, 687, Dockets 85-7455, 85-7499.
United States Court of Appeals,
Second Circuit.
Argued Dec. 13, 1985.
Decided Jan. 22, 1986.

Page 1096

James M. Catterson, Jr., Sp. Counsel for Suffolk Co., Port Jefferson, N.Y. (Snitow & Pauley, William H. Pauley, III, Scott M. Yaffe, of counsel), for defendants-appellants.

William M. Brodsky, New York City (Baden Kramer Huffman & Brodsky, P.C., of counsel), for plaintiffs-appellees.

Before KAUFMAN, TIMBERS, and NEWMAN, Circuit Judges.

IRVING R. KAUFMAN, Circuit Judge:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that an employee has a right to a working environment free of racial harassment. On this appeal, we are presented with the assertion of this right in an uncommon context. Appellees, sixteen black and Hispanic correction officers, seek to enlist their employer's aid in cleansing an atmosphere universally recognized as harsh and oft-times cruel--a prison facility. Acknowledging that racial slurs in prisons are often difficult to control, we nevertheless believe the County's prior efforts must be augmented, and affirm the judgments below.

Page 1097

Before proceeding to the merits of this action, we pause briefly to set forth the factual background that led to this appeal.

BACKGROUND

In May 1981, four black and Hispanic Suffolk County correction officers filed charges of racial discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). In separate but identical complaints, Officers Oscar Byrd, John Hammond, Raymond Ramos and Willie Lawrence 1 alleged that Suffolk County and its Sheriff's Department ("the County") had purposefully maintained policies and practices that discriminated against them, and others similarly situated, by failing to recruit, hire and promote racial minorities. According to the officers, the County refused to assign racial minorities to "more desirable" positions within the Sheriff's Department and failed "to take appropriate action to correct the present effects of past discriminatory practices."

These complaints were brought to the attention of the Sheriff by the Suffolk County Attorney's office in both June and July of 1981. When no action was taken by the EEOC within 180 days of the filing date, the minority officers obtained identical "right to sue" letters from the Department of Justice, authorizing each recipient to bring suit in his own behalf. 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e-5(f)(1).

On December 30, 1982, the four men, together with black and Hispanic officers Clement Snell, James Henderson and Victor Delgado--who had not previously filed charges with the EEOC--brought suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Echoing the substance of their EEOC complaints, the officers charged appellants Suffolk County and Suffolk County Sheriff John P. Finnerty (as administrator of the Suffolk County Correctional Facility) with establishing a pattern and practice whose intended effect was to deny black and Hispanic officers their right to equal employment opportunities.

The officers sought both equitable relief pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e et seq., and damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. Appellees requested a declaratory judgment that the alleged practices were unconstitutional and an injunction requiring their prohibition. Moreover, the officers sought assignment to the jobs they claimed they would have had but for the County's discriminatory practices, as well as damages for lost wages.

Appellants denied all the substantive allegations in the complaint, and appellees moved for class certification. Chief Judge Weinstein denied the motion because the proposed class was not sufficiently numerous to prevent joinder of all interested persons. Thereafter, the district court instructed appellees' counsel to canvass other minority officers and permit them to join in the action if they desired. By order of January 4, 1984, thirteen plaintiffs, none of whom had exhausted his or her administrative remedies, were joined in the action. Chief Judge Weinstein waived the EEOC filing requirements, however, and the trial proceeded as nineteen separate lawsuits, each involving a Title VII action to be considered by the court and a section 1983 claim to be tried by jury. 2

During presentation of the plaintiffs' case, it became apparent that the minority officers were experiencing difficulty specifying instances in which they had been denied assignment or promotion because of their race. Accordingly, plaintiffs' testimony increasingly focused on specific incidents of racial harassment and ethnic slurs, depicting a general racial animus in the prison against black and Hispanic officers.

Page 1098

Correction Officer Ramos testified, for example, that in January 1983, several white officers dressed an Hispanic inmate in a straw hat, sheet and sign that read "Spic," and referred to him as "Ramos's son." Ramos stated he reported the incident to his supervisory lieutenant and wrote directly to Sheriff Finnerty, Warden Romano, Deputy Warden Flammia and Chief of Staff Antoncic. Ramos claimed the lieutenant accused him of trying to "make waves," while a fellow officer warned him, "we know how to take care of fellows like you."

Several days later, Chief of Staff Antoncic informed Ramos that his investigation revealed the incident had never occurred. When Ramos produced photographs of the inmate in Hispanic dress, the Chief of Staff then stirred himself to refer the matter to the Internal Affairs division. Ramos stated his car had been vandalized in the jail's parking lot, and he repeatedly received harassing telephone calls at his home, presumably because of his complaints. A civil service hearing was held several months later, but Ramos was never officially notified of the result. 3 After testifying at the hearing, Ramos was greeted with a sign and chants by white officers declaring, "We have the spic. We won."

Testimony of other minority officers revealed that Officer Ramos's experience was not an isolated incident. They too had been repeatedly subject to offensive racial epithets and demeaning ethnic quips concerning their appearance and intelligence. The evidence at trial painted a bleak picture relating to the daily usage of such slurs as "nigger," "coon," "black bitch," and "spic." These sentiments were echoed by a proliferation of racially derogatory "literature" posted on bulletin boards and walls throughout the main thoroughfares of the correctional facility. Included among these vilifications were "study guides" for minority officers comprised of puzzles commonly found in children's books, as well as a questionnaire for black officers containing virtually every conceivable racially offensive cliche. Minority officers were confronted with cartoons and "doctored" photographs favorably portraying the Ku Klux Klan, offensive photographs of half-naked black men and women in African garb, a picture of a black man with a noose around his neck and another whose message clearly likened black people to "game" fit for hunting.

Moreover, two minority officers testified they had been denied access by white guards to a locked bathroom. Accordingly, one officer was forced to urinate in a receptacle he found in the inmates' living quarters. Other officers stated they had anonymously received Ku Klux Klan applications and "advertisements" for the "Niggers Back to Africa Movement" in their mailboxes at work. Yet another officer testified she felt so demeaned by the constant racial derision that she chose to eat lunch apart from her fellow officers to avoid unnecessary harassment. Finally, more than one employee stated that the level of racial hostility was so acute that they feared white officers might not respond to their calls for assistance.

Aside from Officer Ramos's experience with an inmate dressed in Hispanic garb, two other incidents were formally investigated. Walter Richardson complained that at a "Family Day" gathering of prison employees and their wives, he and his spouse were offended by a white officer's supposedly humorous quip that prison employment fosters racial prejudice. The white officer said he no longer enjoyed watching basketball because the sight of black men running up and down the court reminded him of his working environment. The incident was investigated and the responsible officer was relieved of his community relations assignment.

Page 1099

Similarly, female officer Pressley testified that a white civilian employee had referred to her as a "nigger" and a "black bitch" in front of other employees. Sergeant Pressley complained that such conduct undermined her authority in the workplace. After an investigation by Internal Affairs, the white woman received an official reprimand. We note, however, that the results of these investigations were never publicly disclosed.

The district judge carefully charged the jury on appellees' two section 1983 claims--discrimination in assignment and promotion and an atmosphere of racial harassment. 4 The jury found for the County on appellees' claims of discrimination in assignment and promotion, and awarded damages to only three of the remaining sixteen plaintiffs...

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337 practice notes
  • McKenna v. Permanente Med. Grp., Inc., Case No. CV F 12–0849 LJO GSA.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • August 13, 2012
    ...Rock, 722 F.2d 1390, 1394 (8th Cir.1983), cert. denied,466 U.S. 972, 104 S.Ct. 2347, 80 L.Ed.2d 820 (1984); Snell v. Suffolk County, 782 F.2d 1094, 1103 (2nd Cir.1986). “When the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insult that is sufficiently severe or perv......
  • Barrett v. Forest Labs., Inc., No. 12–cv–5224 (RA).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • August 14, 2014
    ...in the action if their individual claims arise out of similar discriminatory treatment in the same time frame.” Snell v. Suffolk Cnty., 782 F.2d 1094, 1100 (2d Cir.1986) (alteration omitted). When applying this rule to a large group of employees, the Second Circuit has explained, the initia......
  • Harris v. Marsh, No. 81-60-CIV-3
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Eastern District of North Carolina
    • December 28, 1987
    ...which have persisted long after state policy has been reversed. Snell v. Suffolk County, 611 F.Supp. 521, 530-31 (E.D.N.Y. 1985), aff'd, 782 F.2d 1094 (2d Cir.1986). Many claims of discrimination today deal with systemic, subtle and stereotypical practices which developed when overt discrim......
  • Lial v. County Of Stanislaus, CASE NO. CV F 09-1039 LJO JLT
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • November 23, 2010
    ...v. City of Little Rock, 722 F.2d 1390, 1394 (8th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 466 U.S. 972, 104 S.Ct. 2347 (1984); Snell v. Suffolk County, 782 F.2d 1094, 1103 (2nd Cir. 1986). "When the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insult that is sufficiently severe or......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
339 cases
  • McKenna v. Permanente Med. Grp., Inc., Case No. CV F 12–0849 LJO GSA.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • August 13, 2012
    ...Rock, 722 F.2d 1390, 1394 (8th Cir.1983), cert. denied,466 U.S. 972, 104 S.Ct. 2347, 80 L.Ed.2d 820 (1984); Snell v. Suffolk County, 782 F.2d 1094, 1103 (2nd Cir.1986). “When the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insult that is sufficiently severe or perv......
  • Barrett v. Forest Labs., Inc., No. 12–cv–5224 (RA).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • August 14, 2014
    ...in the action if their individual claims arise out of similar discriminatory treatment in the same time frame.” Snell v. Suffolk Cnty., 782 F.2d 1094, 1100 (2d Cir.1986) (alteration omitted). When applying this rule to a large group of employees, the Second Circuit has explained, the initia......
  • Harris v. Marsh, No. 81-60-CIV-3
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Eastern District of North Carolina
    • December 28, 1987
    ...which have persisted long after state policy has been reversed. Snell v. Suffolk County, 611 F.Supp. 521, 530-31 (E.D.N.Y. 1985), aff'd, 782 F.2d 1094 (2d Cir.1986). Many claims of discrimination today deal with systemic, subtle and stereotypical practices which developed when overt discrim......
  • Lial v. County Of Stanislaus, CASE NO. CV F 09-1039 LJO JLT
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • November 23, 2010
    ...v. City of Little Rock, 722 F.2d 1390, 1394 (8th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 466 U.S. 972, 104 S.Ct. 2347 (1984); Snell v. Suffolk County, 782 F.2d 1094, 1103 (2nd Cir. 1986). "When the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insult that is sufficiently severe or......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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