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Orleski v. Bowers

September 5, 2007

JOHN ORLESKI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHARLES BOWERS, CHIEF OF CITY OF ERIE POLICE DEPARTMENT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: District Judge McLaughlin

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court upon a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants' Charles Bowers, Timothy Stucke, and the City of Erie.

I. BACKGROUND

In January, 2005, the City of Erie Bureau of Police hired Plaintiff, John Orleski ("Orleski") as a Probationary Police Officer (PPO). Orleski was assigned to Corporal Daniel J. Morris ("Morris") as his Field Training Officer (FTO) for his on the job training. As part of his field training with Morris, Orleski operated a police cruiser three out of five days each training week. (John Orleski Deposition, pp. 32-33, Ex. 1, Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment).

According to Morris, Orleski frequently violated traffic laws and ignored admonitions to drive more carefully while operating the police cruiser. (Morris Affidavit, Defendant's Ex. C). Specifically, Morris contended that Orleski repeatedly exceeded posted speed limits, drove the wrong way on one-way streets, sent and received text messages on his cell phone while driving, ran a red light on one occasion, and backed into a fire hydrant. Eventually, Morris informed his superior, Sgt. Thomas Falconer, of Orleski's alleged driving problems and expressed his opinion that Orleski posed a danger to himself, his training officer, and the public. (Id.)

On April 6, 2005, Sgt. Falconer advised Deputy Chief Timothy Stucke ("Stucke"), who was in charge of the patrol division, of Morris' concerns. Sgt. Falconer requested that the Termination Review Committee review the matter and make a decision as to whether to continue Orleski's training. (Bureau of Police Memorandum, Defendants' Exhibit F). On the same date, Stucke, on instructions from Chief Charles Bowers ("Bowers"), notified Orleski that "due to major safety violations," he would be suspended with pay. (Bureau of Police Memorandum, Defendants' Exhibit G). Orleski claims that Morris exaggerated his alleged driving difficulties and on one occasion requested that he drive the wrong way down a one-way street. Alternatively, he argues that if his driving skills were, in fact, as inadequate as alleged, he should have been offered remedial training from the department prior to being discharged. In this regard, Orleski claims that new officers were informed, during their initial training period, that remedial training was available if they were lagging behind in any specific area. It is undisputed that Orleski never requested or was offered remedial driving training.

On April 8, 2005, Orleski was a patron of Papa George's Country Bar and Grill, a bar located in downtown Erie, when he allegedly became involved in an altercation with a female acquaintance. The woman in question informed bar security that Orleski had been harassing her and, as a result, Orleski was asked to leave by the bar owner. (Gerald Hayford Deposition, pp. 6-8; Orleski Deposition, pp. 60-62).

On April 8, 2005, the Field Training Officer Termination Review Committee convened to review Orleski's suspension and future employment. Among those present were Stucke, Morris and Sgt. Falconer. The Committee recommended that Orleski be terminated as a result of accumulating ten cruiser operation deficiencies in 15 days of driving. The Committee considered offering remedial training but concluded that doing so would pose an unacceptable risk to the safety of another training officer and the public. (Bureau of Police Memorandum from FTO Termination Review Committee, Defendants' Exhibit I; Stucke Deposition, pp. 60-64).

On April 15, 2005, Orleski was formally placed on unpaid suspension and informed that notification of his termination would follow. On April 19, 2005, Orleski completed an application for employment with the Veteran's Administration (VA) in Erie for a position as a police officer. On the application, Orleski indicated that his employment with the City of Erie had terminated in 4/2005.

On June 26, 2005, Orleski was allegedly involved in another incident at Papa George's Bar. The manager asked bouncers to remove Orleski from the premises, barred him from ever returning, and called the police. When officers arrived, they observed Orleski wearing an Erie Police Department t-shirt. (Hayford Deposition, pp. 8-13). Orleski, however, denies that he had been causing a disturbance at the bar and asserts that the manager informed Orleski that he had been removed from the premises pursuant to Stucke's orders.

On July 1, 2005, Stucke issued a Memorandum informing all police personnel that Orleski had been barred from Papa George's and alleging that Orleski had been wearing an EPD t-shirt and holding himself out to be a police officer. (Bureau of Police Memorandum, Defendants' Exhibit O). Orleski admits that he was wearing the t-shirt, which he says that he purchased at a privately run uniform shop, but denies that he made any attempt to pass himself off as a police officer while at the bar. (Orleski Deposition, p. 65).

At some point in June, 2005, Orleski was tentatively selected by Chief Robert Reyes ("Reyes") for the position as a police officer with the VA. Geralynn Nies, the Human Resources Manager for the VA, testified that Orleski had been in a group of three finalists for the position and that Chief Reyes had recommended Orleski for the position to the VA Director, who signed off on the recommendation. (Nies Deposition, pp. 18-19). Shortly thereafter, after hearing that Orleski was being considered for the position, Bowers phoned Reyes and informed him, "one police chief to another," that Orleski had been terminated previously due to safety concerns arising from his driving. (Bowers Deposition, pp. 8, 27-28, 36-37).

In addition to raising the concerns about Orleski's driving abilities, Orleski asserts that Bowers also made several defamatory and untrue remarks about him that caused Reyes to reconsider his tentative selection of Orleski for the open position. Specifically, Orleski contends that Bowers relayed to Reyes that Orleski had been impersonating a police officer, causing disturbances at a local bar, and had been accused of female harassment. (See Bowers Deposition, pp. 14-15; Plaintiff's Response, Ex. 8, Reyes Report of Contact). Orleski denies the accuracy of these allegations.

On July 6, 2005, Lori Snyder, Human Resources Assistant for the Erie VA, conducted a telephone interview with Bowers pursuant to the VA hiring protocol for processing applications for police positions. During this interview, Bowers informed Snyder that Orleski had failed his probationary training and that his driving problems had motivated the firing. In addition to these statements, Orleski contends that Bowers also informed Snyder that Orleski "had off duty problems with women, but no one wanted to push the issue," and that Orleski had been "barred from a downtown ...


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