City: No jury trial for gay cop
by Timothy Cwiek
Nov 27, 2013 | 728 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
City officials say a gay police officer who alleges antigay workplace bias isn’t entitled to a jury trial.

N. Melville Jones filed suit in Common Pleas Court, seeking a jury trial and damages in excess of $50,000.

But on Nov. 8, city attorneys filed legal papers stating that Jones doesn’t have a legal right to a jury trial.

City spokesperson Mark McDonald explained the city’s position:

“[Jones] filed his employment discrimination case under the [city’s] Fair Practices Ordinance, which is analogous to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1999 held that there is no right to a jury trial under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. Therefore, there is also no right to a jury trial under the [city’s] Fair Practices Ordinance.”

Federal antibias litigants are entitled to a jury trial, but that right was specified in the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

The city also says Jones’ suit should be dismissed because it’s too weak to move forward.

“[Jones] has not alleged sufficient facts to state a cause of action for disparate treatment, hostile work environment or retaliation under the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance,” the city’s Nov. 8 filing states.

Additionally, the city argues that Jones’ suit should be dismissed because it names the police department as the defendant, rather than the city itself.

“City departments do not have an independent corporate existence,” the filing notes.

In his suit, Jones contends that Daniel Castro, a former high-ranking police official, routinely engaged in antigay harassment.

Castro wanted Jones to become “an inside confidante to accommodate Castro’s questionable activities,” according to Jones’ lawsuit.

When Jones distanced himself from Castro, he allegedly was transferred to a less-desirable position within the police department.

After Jones attempted to lodge a workplace antibias complaint, several colleagues began treating him negatively, which Jones attributed to anti-LGBT animosity encouraged by Castro.

In January 2010, while Jones was out on sick leave, Castro circulated a staff memo that identified Jones as “Mel Jones Cums,” according to Jones’ lawsuit.

Castro no longer works for the city. In 2011, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion in an unrelated matter and was sentenced to 60 months in prison.

City attorneys asked that Jones’ allegations about Castro be stricken from the record.

“These allegations prejudice [the city] and inject confusion into [Jones’] employment-discrimination claims,” the city’s filing states. “Therefore, allegations about Castro’s illegal activity or criminal background should be stricken as scandalous and impertinent.”

Jones, a 15-year veteran of the force, also claims that officials retaliated against him for complaining about alleged workplace bias.

But the city’s filing states that Jones “has failed to allege that he suffered an adverse employment action after engaging in a protected activity.”

The case is pending before Common Pleas Judge Mark I. Bernstein.

A status conference on the case has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 20 in City Hall, Room 613.

At presstime, Gerald J. Pomerantz, an attorney for Jones, had no comment.

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