Police Cadet Called ‘Grandma' May Take Age Bias Claim to Trial

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By Jon Steingart

July 20 — A former police cadet who says age discrimination prompted an academy instructor to give her a failing score that blocked her from becoming an officer may present her claim at trial, a federal judge ruled ( Vale v. City of New Haven , 2016 BL 231466, D. Conn., No. 3:11-cv-00632, 7/19/16 ).

The New Haven, Conn., trainer called 40-year-old Kimberly Vale “grandma” several times as part of the “stress inoculation” used to cultivate the thick skin police officers need, the city said. Evidence that the trainer didn't refer to other cadets the same way may show that age-based animus propelled him to flunk her, Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut said.

Vale's attorney, Josephine Smalls Miller of Danbury, Conn., questioned the motive behind stress inoculation.

“You’re going to expect that an African-American is going to be called some slurs. When we queried the training people about whether, for example, did they refer to African-Americans by racial slurs, they didn’t do that,” Miller told Bloomberg BNA July 20. “So you’d have to question what’s the motive for this so-called stress inoculation.”

Remarks Intended to Build Grit, City Says

Vale stumbled at the end of an obstacle course after finishing in more time than was allowed, Haight said. Finishing on two feet was a requirement the trainer added that wasn't part of the course, Vale said.

When Vale attempted the course again, the trainer had her run at the same time as another cadet, Haight said. This set up Vale to fail because she was slowed by a narrow segment that could only accommodate one person at a time, she said.

The city contended the instructor spoke to Vale the way he did to cultivate the thick skin she would need as a police officer. She said he was unusually harsh with her.

The city's explanation might be genuine, Haight said. Whether the instructor's statements created a presumption of discrimination or were merely “isolated derogatory remarks” is a question that needs to be resolved at trial, he said.

The judge directed both sides to begin preparations for trial.

A spokesman for the police department declined to speak about the matter because the case is ongoing.

McCarter & English LLP and O'Brien Tanski & Young represented the city.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at jsteingart@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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