Court Finds No Discrimination in Deputies’ Discipline

May 2, 2019

District Court Judge Philip Reinhard granted summary judgment in an employment discrimination case filed by a sergeant and a deputy following their involvement in a fatal police pursuit. Meagan and Ryan Pettengell, a married couple working for the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office alleged they were discriminated against based on Meagan’s gender, Meagan’s pregnancy and their marital status. The suit arose after both the Pettengells were disciplined by the Sheriff’s Merit Commission following Meagan’s vehicular pursuit of a suspect which ended in the suspect’s death. Ryan supervised her during the pursuit.

The Pettengells claimed that the Sheriff’s investigation into the pursuit and the charges he filed before the Merit Commission were based not on the severity of their conduct and the deadly outcome of the pursuit, but on Meagan’s gender and the fact that Ryan and Meagan were married. In support of their claims, the Pettengells presented several comparators – single, male employees who received lesser or no discipline for pursuit violations. Judge Reinhard found these comparators dissimilar to the Pettengells in that they did not have the same supervisor, did not engage in similar conduct, and did not have prior discipline for the same rule violations. Moreover, the Pettengells failed to show that the discipline sought by the Sheriff was pretextual as the undisputed facts demonstrated that the Sheriff was genuinely motivated in disciplining the Pettengells following the fatal pursuit.

Likewise, the court rejected Meagan’s claims that she was discriminated against by the Sheriff’s policy that cohabitating deputies could not take two squad cars home and by a reduction of 8 hours of work over a ten-week period. Judge Reinhard ruled that the “inconvenience” of getting to and from work with her own vehicle and the loss of 8 hours of work time did not alter the terms and conditions of employment and were therefore not adverse employment actions. Finally, the court rejected the Pettengells’ claim that their First Amendment rights were violated by the Sheriff retaliating against them for hiring a private attorney and filing charges with the IDHR/EEOC as neither of these actions involved matters of public concern protected by the First Amendment.

Mike Bersani and Yordana Wysocki represented the Sheriff and other defendants.

Pettengell v. Sheriff of DeKalb County, et al., Case No. 17 CV 931 (3/26/19)

 

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