Straight Cop Says He's Target Of Gay Taunts

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Sponge Bob
Sponge Bob

As far as hateful speech goes, it wasn't a reference that jumped out immediately as being anti-gay—not even to members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Practice Section of the Connecticut Bar Association. But allegations that Hartford Police Chief Daryl Roberts called one of his officers "SpongeBob SquarePants" and made other anti-gay remarks were enough to convince a judge that the plaintiff's case of discrimination based on sexual orientation should go to a jury.

Hartford police Lt. Brian Foley, an 18-year veteran of the force who was a sergeant at the time the state lawsuit was filed in 2010, identifies himself in his complaint as heterosexual. Despite that stated orientation and his testimony that he is "happily married to a woman," Foley has accused Roberts and Assistant Chief Lester McCloy of making constant harassing remarks, which he characterized as "hostile and homophonic."

Some lawyers who have followed Foley's workplace discrimination lawsuit believe it's the first time such a claim has been pursued in the state based on someone being called by the name of a cartoon character. It also appears to be the first time, employment lawyers said, that a discrimination claim is being brought by someone outside the protected class, in this case homosexuals, in seeking a workplace bias claim. The Connecticut legislature passed the law protecting gays and lesbians in 1991.

"There exists a genuine issue of material fact with respect to the hostile work environment claim on the basis of perceived sexual orientation," Judge Trial Referee Jerry Wagner wrote in an Oct. 29 order denying a motion for summary judgment that had been argued by lawyers for the City of Hartford.

Of course, the case still must be litigated.

Robert Brody of Westport's Brody and Associates, a management-side employment law firm, said one key question that remains is what the judge meant by "perceived sexual orientation" when he made his ruling.

"The first thing that comes to my mind is he's not in the protected class," Brody said. "I would think someone would have to show they were in a protected class to proceed with a claim like this."

Several members of the gay and lesbian practice section declined to comment on the matter, citing conflicts of interest over friendships with parties in the case or because they are not familiar enough with employment law to discuss it.

According to Wagner, a supervisor's and coworker's use of gay slurs, including the name of a cartoon character "associated with homosexuality," is enough to allow the worker's case to survive the city's bid to have the lawsuit dropped.

In his ruling, Wagner stated that what is required to establish a claim of a hostile workplace is evidence of a "sexually objectionable environment" that must be "both objectively and subjectively offensive" to the point that "a reasonable person would find it hostile or abusive."

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