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Niagara County jail employee weighs settlement offer in discrimination lawsuit

LOCKPORT – A Niagara County jail employee is likely to accept a $94,000 settlement in a federal discrimination lawsuit against the county, her lawyer said Monday.

The County Legislature approved the settlement earlier this month, but no figures were included in the resolution. The terms of the deal with Carisa L. Boddecker were made public Monday by U.S. District Court in Buffalo.

County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said Boddecker has until 5 p.m. Wednesday to decide whether to accept the deal. Her attorney, Robert L. Boreanaz, said that a longer deadline is customary but that Boddecker probably will sign the deal.

“She’s very pleased with the results. It’s a vindication of her claim right from the beginning. She’s getting everything she’s entitled to,” Boreanaz said.

Of the $94,000 payment, $29,000 is to go to Boreanaz’s law firm, Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria of Buffalo. Boddecker receives the remainder, but it will be taxable.

If Boddecker doesn’t sign the deal, the Justice Department will pull out of the case, and Boddecker can sue the county on her own, the document says.

Joerg declined to comment.

In 2007, Boddecker, a corrections officer, was pregnant and supposed to be assigned to light duty. However, she was ordered to work as a guard because of a shortage of available female officers.

After she and her doctor complained about the assignment, the county ended up forcing Boddecker to go on unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

“She filed a complaint alleging that as a pregnant corrections officer, she was not provided the same accommodations as other injured male corrections officers were offered, which was the light duty in the control room,” Boreanaz said.

“She had to use accruals and she had to take time off. The EEOC investigated it and they concluded her case had valid points, and they took the drastic step of bringing a lawsuit against the county.”

The agreement says the county is not acknowledging that it did anything wrong in its treatment of Boddecker.

Boreanaz said, “The county can color this as no admission, but if they didn’t do anything wrong, they wouldn’t have agreed to supervision by the Justice Department of nondiscrimination training, and they wouldn’t have agreed to payment of back wages, mental anguish, lost time, retirement benefits and legal fees.”

The county apparently has spent more than a quarter of a million dollars on legal fees and expenses for this case since it was filed in 2013. The county was represented by Sharon A. Swift of the Buffalo law firm of Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel. Swift refused to comment on the case Monday.

As of June, the county’s legal costs had topped $227,000, including $98,000 in the first half of this year, and there was no settlement at that time. Joerg said he did not know the exact total figure Monday.

Boreanaz said, “The county put up the proverbial fight. The county blamed my client, Carisa, for budget woes, and yet at the end they agreed to all these measures which they should have done in the first place. It’s embarrassing that they would blame my client for attorney fees when it’s their fault the government went after them.”

The lawsuit was filed on Boddecker’s behalf by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department after it got wind of her complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Boreanaz said that in 2013, when the county was sued, the EEOC reviewed 93,000 complaints and filed only 148 lawsuits nationwide.

In addition to the payments, the county agreed not to retaliate against Boddecker or her husband, Bryan R. Boddecker, who is also a corrections officer, or anyone else who cooperated with the lawsuit.

The Sheriff’s Office also is required to implement an anti-discrimination policy on sex and pregnancy and provide mandatory training to all employees, as well as those in the county Human Resources Department. The Justice Department must approve the policy and the training.