By Joe O’Halloran
A federal jury in U.S. District Court in Central Islip awarded a Suffolk County Police Officer $450,000 in damages July 9 for a 2006 discrimination claim against the county.
The verdict is the second in three days in which the county was found liable for discrimination against one of its officers. A jury found on July 6 that the county had discriminated and retaliated against a pregnant police officer in its parks department [“Suffolk Liable in Pregnancy Discrimination Suit,” July 9].
Matthew Sforza, a 15-year veteran of the New York City and Suffolk County Police Departments, alleged he had been discriminated against when repeatedly passed up for promotion by the county following a March 2003 back injury suffered while apprehending suspects at the 4th Precinct.
Sitting alongside his attorney Rick Ostrove, of Carle Place-based law firm Leeds Morelli & Brown, at a press conference inside the Nassau County Supreme Court Building in Mineola July 10, Sforza spoke of his astonishment at being denied not once, but three times for the position of sergeant as other officers, who had scored lower on the test than he did, he said, were promoted.
“You work for something, you take a test and do your job, and you find out that you are passed up for a promotion because of an injury,” Sforza said.
According to Ostrove, Sforza’s injury limited him from performing physical aspects of his job for a period of time and kept him out of work from March 2003 to August 2004. The department was not justified in denying his client a promotion due to an injury that, upon returning to work, did not prohibit Sforza from performing the essential functions of his job, he said.
Sforza added that the department bypassed Sforza for promotion based on his injury even though he maintained an exemplary standard of performance as a police officer with no reports of civilian or interoffice complaints or discipline.
The Suffolk County Police Department sees it differently.
“Officer Sforza was out on a work-related injury, returned and claims he was not promoted due to a perceived (not actual) disability,” says Tim Motz, Suffolk police spokesperson. “During the proceedings, however, he produced a doctor’s note that showed he was medically fit to work. The police department continues to have the position that he was not discriminated against.”
Ostrove says more money is headed his client’s way in the future. A judge will be deciding Sforza’s lost wages had he received the promotion to sergeant, he explains.
According to Sforza, the department didn’t even notify him directly to tell him he was denied the promotion.
“Another officer who was below me on the list had received a call that he received the promotion,” he explains. “He then called me to find out if I had received the same notification, and I hadn’t.”
Sforza adds that his supervisors told him he was denied because he wasn’t “being productive” with the number of arrests and tickets he was issuing, not because of his injury.
“It was simply an excuse because they knew there was no other reason to pass me up for the promotion,” he said.