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Ross-Paige v. Saint Louis Metropolitan Police Department

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

June 30, 2015

TANISHA ROSS-PAIGE, Respondent,
v.
SAINT LOUIS METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT, STEVEN A. GORI, MICHAEL A. DEEBA, SR., SAINT LOUIS BOARD OF POLICE COMMISSIONERS, RICHARD H. GRAY, BETTYE BATTLE TURNER, THOMAS J. IRWIN and FRANCIS G. SLAY, Appellants.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis Honorable Timothy J. Wilson

Patricia L. Cohen, Presiding Judge

Introduction

The St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners (Board) appeals the Circuit Court judgment in favor of Tanisha Ross-Paige (Plaintiff) on her claim that the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) retaliated against her, in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), after she filed an internal complaint of sexual harassment and retaliation with the SLMPD. The Board asserts that the trial court erred in: (1) submitting Instruction No. 8 to the jury; and (2) overruling the Board's motion for a new trial on the issue of punitive damages due to juror misconduct. We affirm.

Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff, a police officer, joined the canine unit of the SLMPD in 2009. In 2011, Sgt. Steven Gori was Plaintiff's immediate supervisor and Lt. Michael Deeba was commander of the SWAT and canine units. Prior to June 2011, Plaintiff received only positive performance reviews.

At the beginning of Plaintiff's shift on June 2, 2011, she responded to a hostage situation with her dog, Duncan. After the scene was secured, Sgt. Gori approached Plaintiff, reprimanded her for failing to report to him upon her arrival, and informed her that he was changing her shift. Plaintiff became angry and challenged Sgt. Gori in the presence of other command rank officers, including Sgt. Craig Chromoga, the acting commander at the hostage call. When Sgt. Gori later called Plaintiff on the telephone to discuss the shift change, she yelled at and eventually hung up on him.

On June 3, 2011, Plaintiff filed an "Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint Form" with the SLMPD's human resources department claiming that she had experienced sexual discrimination and retaliation. On the form, Plaintiff wrote: "I feel like I'm being sexually harassed by my Sgt. Gori, and since I'm not accepting his advancement [sic] he's started retaliating against me."[1] The same day, Sgt. Gori sent Plaintiff an email, which he copied to Lt. Deeba and Lt. Deeba's superior officer, Captain Gwen Spicer, summoning Plaintiff to a meeting in his office on June 6, 2011.

On June 6, 2011, Sgt. Chromoga completed a performance observation form (POF), at the request of Lt. Deeba, relating to the June 2 incident. Sgt. Chromoga alleged the following misconduct: "[Plaintiff] failed to notify her supervisor upon arrival at a 7250 on 06/02/11. [Plaintiff] was also reluctant to a duty hour change on 06/03/11 due to a detail." Sgt. Chromoga also checked boxes indicating "Improvement Needed" by Plaintiff in the areas of "Knowledge/compliance with rules and authority" and "Communication skills." Plaintiff also received an email from Lt. Deeba on June 6, 2011, admonishing: "It is not a subordinates [sic] job to question a [sic] order. It is not a subordinates [sic] job to wonder where the sergeant is. A subordinate should not be [sic] disrespectfully, insubordinate, and act irrational."

Plaintiff began an approved medical leave on June 15, 2011 and returned to work on September 26, 2011. While Plaintiff was on leave, Lt. Deeba received a report from an outside EEO consultant finding Plaintiff's EEO complaint to be "without merit." However, the investigator recommended that the HR department: refer the matter to the internal affairs division "for further action related to the poster";[2] counsel Sgt. Gori with regard to the SLMPD's EEO policy and "how to communicate professionally and legally with employees"; and continue having Plaintiff "report to someone other than Sergeant Gori."

On September 1, 2011, Lt. Deeba emailed the following request to Capt. Spicer:

[Plaintiff] initiated a complaint against me and Sergeant Gori. The findings of this complaint have been returned to both of us by the EEOC consultant, Mrs. Marti Bloodsaw. The findings for the sexual harassment and retaliation complaint were determined to be "without merit."
As you are aware, since the beginning of this erroneous complaint to the completion of this investigation, this officer has disrupted the operations of both SWAT and Canine.
Further, I have been approached by every member of the Canine Unit, who feel unsafe and do not trust this officer and do not want to work with her.
I request that [Plaintiff] be transferred immediately and I post this critical position.

On September 19, 2011, Lt. Deeba sent another email requesting Plaintiff's transfer. Lt. Deeba addressed the email to Col. Antoinette Filla and copied it to Capt. Spicer, Sgt. Carlos Ross, [3] and the entire canine unit. This email stated:

. . . . I spoke to HR today before I received your email and they advise that in the eeoc [sic] recommendation that [Plaintiff] indefinitely should not report to Sgt. Gori.
That is what Mrs. Hicks told me from HR and that it had no restrictions on me. Per HR and the EEOC I was never a focus of a [sic] investigation[.] I was interviewed as a witness.
This officer has several discipline issue [sic] pending, a shots fired, and further remedial training BEFORE she returns to work. I have given all of this to Captain Spicer when I was removed from the Chain of Command.
[Plaintiff] was at the office today attempting to retrieve her car and dog. Officer Wilke called and told me this. I called her and told her this will not happen until she returns to work. She will also need 4 to 6 weeks of remedial training at the school due to the poor upkeep of her canine by her. That is per my lead canine trainer. Further, it will be my recommendation which I will submit in writing this week to you that due to [Plaintiff's] insubordination and poor work ethic she be removed from the Canine Unit. . . .

(emphasis in original). Upon Plaintiff's return from medical leave, she and Duncan completed four weeks of remedial training.

Plaintiff resumed work in the canine unit in October or November 2011. On November 20, 2011, Lt. Deeba sent an email to Plaintiff, Sgt. Ross, Capt. Spicer, Col. Filla, and the entire canine unit prohibiting Plaintiff from using the computers in the canine unit office. Plaintiff did not receive the required monthly training in November and December 2011.

During a monthly street-training session on January 4, 2012, another officer's canine attacked Plaintiff, causing injury to Plaintiff's left ankle and knee. Plaintiff required ongoing treatment for her knee injury, during which time she worked in the SLMPD's communications department. In February 2012, the SLMPD "kenneled" Duncan and denied Plaintiff permission to visit him. On April 4 and 5, 2012, two female canine officers emailed Lt. Deeba requesting Plaintiff's transfer to a different unit.

On October 5, 2012, James Buntin, assistant director of the SLMPD's HR department, sent Plaintiff a letter informing her that her physician "has placed permanent restrictions on you and has placed you at MMI (Maximum Medical Improvement)." In a letter dated November 21, 2012, he informed Plaintiff that the Board "approved the recommendation to drop you from the rolls of the [SLMPD] effective November 21, 2012, due to your permanent medical restrictions." Approximately one week later, Lt. Deeba submitted a report recommending that Duncan be retired and "donated to the care of" a department employee.

Plaintiff subsequently applied for disability benefits. Plaintiff attended a hearing regarding entitlement to disability benefits in May 2013. At the time of her trial in ...


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