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Guard opposes Jefferson County’s efforts to have $9 million suit dismissed

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A Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department corrections officer is opposing a motion by the county to have her $9 million federal job discrimination lawsuit dismissed.

Janice M. O’Dell, Ellisburg, through her attorney A.J. Bosman, Rome, filed a memorandum of law Friday in U.S. District Court, Utica, arguing that her claims are viable and her action should be allowed to continue in its entirety.

Ms. O’Dell filed suit against the department and several of its members in September, claiming that she was suspended from her job in May 2012 after being wrongfully accused of having “relationships” with inmates both at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building and outside after the inmates were released.

She subsequently was charged in a grand jury indictment handed up in June 2012 with two counts of first-degree promoting prison contraband and single counts of second-degree promoting prison contraband and official misconduct. It was alleged that she provided an inmate with cigarettes and a lighter sometime in September 2011 and that she provided an inmate with a lighter in April 2011. In February 2013, the two first-degree contraband counts were dismissed in County Court and Ms. O’Dell was granted one-year adjournments in contemplation of dismissal on the remaining counts, meaning that if she stayed out of legal trouble for that period, the charges would be dismissed.

Ms. O’Dell alleges, among other things, that a male supervisor and another corrections officer asked her to send them nude pictures of herself and, when she refused, sent her pictures of a penis. She also claims that a pattern of racism exists within the department and that she was placed under increased scrutiny by members of the department because of friendships with African Americans.

The county has responded that Ms. O’Dell has failed to present enough factual information to support her civil rights claims, but Ms. O’Dell’s motion, citing case law, states that “specific facts are not necessary” at this stage of the proceedings, as she is only obligated at this point to “give fair notice” as to what the claims are and the grounds upon which they rest.

The county also argues that there are insufficient facts to support the claims that the county has a policy or practice of discrimination or retaliation, thus making it not liable for claims regarding the alleged practices.

Ms. O’Dell’s motion counters that senior officials of the department allegedly “were themselves responsible for the use of gender disparaging remarks and actions,” providing cause to believe that a custom or policy of discrimination exists.

In all, Ms. O’Dell’s motion raises 23 points in which it refutes the county’s contention that the case should be dismissed. A court hearing on the motion is scheduled for March 21 in Utica.

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