ITHACA, N.Y.—The City of Ithaca and three former chiefs of the Ithaca Police Department avoided costly payouts this week when a judge dismissed current IPD officer Sarah Crews’ sizable lawsuit alleging that she was discriminated against for her sexual orientation and retaliated against once she complained about the alleged discrimination. The lawsuit was seeking $5 million in damages. Crews’ lawyer said they would appeal the decision.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2017, named the City of Ithaca and the last three chiefs of IPD, John Barber, Pete Tyler and Dennis Nayor, as defendants. It is primarily based on the notion that Crews, because she is a lesbian and identifies as gender non-conforming (although she is referred to using feminine pronouns throughout the decision), should not have to conduct cavity searches on female suspects because it puts her at risk of being accused of misconduct towards them, which Crews claims one suspect said they were going to falsely accuse her of. Crews was frequently mandated to conduct searches on female suspects.

Her complaints around that issue, as well as a subsequent string of incidents thereafter, were the basis of her lawsuit. Yet the department, which is moving to terminate Crews, acknowledged that Crews was indeed being punished at work—but for insubordination and disrespectful workplace behavior, not for her sexual orientation or gender identity.

Indeed, in its counter arguments, the city accuses Crews of a fairly extensive pattern of misconduct in verbal interactions with other police officers and the public, including a forcible and unlawful arrest of a minor “in a manner inconsistent with the department’s rules and regulations,” all of which led to its decision to suspend Crews and pursue Crews’ termination. With police officers, though, that includes a lengthy process of arbitration due to the labor contract between the city and the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association.

The decision, issued by U.S. District Judge Mae D’Agostino, detailed several incidents involving Crews and discipline that was handed down in connection to the incidents. It can be read at length below, but following is an example of one of her conclusions, on the hostile work environment claims.

“Plaintiff’s only argument is that her repeated discipline constitutes sufficiently severe and pervasive conduct,” the decision states. “As the court has explained, Plaintiff admitted to the conduct underlying most—if not all—of the violations alleged in the notices of discipline. Thus, defendants were investigating and acting on legitimate concerns of misconduct on the part of an employee. Such action does not create a hostile work environment.”

In a statement accompanying the decision, Mayor Svante Myrick points out Crews’ aforementioned misconduct and notes that Crews has made $166,000 during her subsequent suspension as the court proceeding has continued, in accordance with her union contract.

“The city and its police department continue to value diversity amongst IPD officers, and works to foster a respectful and welcoming environment for all,” Myrick said.

Meanwhile, Crews’ attorney, Ithaca-based Ed Kopko, vowed that he would be appealing the decision and lobbed some verbal grenades at city officials named in the suit.

“The City is ringing the bells now, but the City will be wringing their hands when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan corrects this outrageous error,” Kopko said. “Sarah Crews is a courageous police officer who has faithfully served our community. Nayor is skipping town after lighting the fuse but before the explosion. The fight continues, stay tuned for round two.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com