(The Ottinger Firm) Four current and former New York City police officers have separately filed suit in federal court claiming intimidation by other officers to cover up corruption in the police force, as reported by the New York Times.
For decades, the New York Police Department has required that any officers who observe suspicious or illegal activity by a police colleague to immediately report it. The NYPD Patrol Guide sets out these requirements and promises that police officers will not be retaliated against, but many detectives in the department claim that if they actually follow the rules they risk being threatened and dismissed. Each of the four cases that have been filed present a similar pattern of intimidation and retaliation after the police officers reported suspicious or illegal activity in their units.
One of the cases, Griffin v. The City of New York et al., filed a little over two years ago and still pending, presents a representative of the kind of retaliation police officers in the NYPD face after reporting illegal activity. In this case, James Griffin, a Detective First Grade in the NYPD who had worked there for over 20 years without incident, reported to the Internal Affairs Bureau that one of his colleagues had lied about reasons for not interviewing a witness who later died. When he reported this information, his other colleagues immediately retaliated against him: vandalizing his property, scrawling “rat” on his locker, and ignoring him and giving him difficult and dangerous work assignments. This harassment continued for four years, until he finally retired early, finding it impossible to do his job any longer. He filed suit in federal court, alleging violations of his First Amendment Free Speech and Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983, 42 U.S.C. §1985 and for wrongful constructive termination under the New York Civil Service Law §75(b).
For private employees, retaliation for complaining about unlawful conduct is a common occurrence, and there is little protection under federal and state law for such conduct. For government employees, though, this conduct can be prosecuted as being in violation of their civil rights due to the fact of their having a government employer. In the Griffin case, for example, he was able to bring charges for violation of his Free Speech and Due Process Rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and 42 U.S.C. §1985 because his employer’s status fulfills the requirement of “state action.’ Likewise, government employees may also be protected from retaliation and harassment under their state civil service laws, such as the New York Civil Service Law in this case. The New York Civil Service Law §75(b), also known as the “Whistleblower Law,” protects employees who report action that they reasonably consider to be unlawful from being discharged, demoted, or otherwise retaliated against by their employers. In this case of Griffin, the plaintiff must show that the NYPD demoted him and harassed him due to his report to the Internal Affairs Bureau. Under this statute, a plaintiff need not show that he was actually discharged due to his report. It is enough to demonstrate that the working environment became so hostile that a reasonable person would consider it as rising to the level of termination, or a “constructive discharge.”
Each of the four NYPD retaliation cases illuminates an issue that affects all workers who attempt to play by the rules and report unlawful conduct in the workplace. Although many private employees usually have little remedy when they are retaliated against for being whistleblowers, government employees are usually in a better position due to protections from federal and state civil rights and civil service statutes. Whether private or government employees, however, all workers should be aware of their rights as whistleblowers and try to protect themselves in every way possible.