Denying any laws were broken, an attorney defending Niskayuna against a multi-million dollar federal lawsuit claims that promotions in the police department have been made for strictly legitimate business reasons that were non-discriminatory.
In papers filed in federal court, the town's New York City-based attorney has also attacked the $2 million suit against the suburban community, saying, "punitive damages may not be recovered from the town of Niskayuna as a matter of law."
The legal filings recently submitted on behalf of Niskayuna by Carl Sandel, an outside counsel hired by the town's insurance company, is the latest round in a high-profile case brought by police Sgt. Frances Wall. In her court action, Wall contends that she has been bypassed for promotion to lieutenant three separate times since 1999, despite having more seniority than others who were promoted ahead of her. Wall's higher scores on civil service tests were overlooked as well, she claims.
The legal tussle is the first exchange of papers in a process that could take several years before it winds its way through the federal courts. Wall's lawyer has requested a jury trial and pre-trial motions will be dealt with by the court before that goes forward. The timetable for the case will be subject to discussion when both sides meet in Albany before federal Magistrate Judge Randolph Treece on Aug.1.
Wall's suit is the first of its kind to accuse town officials of discrimination in personnel practices and comes after staff with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission conducted a preliminary investigation.
Their review determined the existence of "reasonable cause" to believe that Wall has been discriminated against because she is a woman.
Lawyers for the commission sought to reach a settlement between Wall and the town before the issue went to court, but were rebuffed in their efforts.