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Judge faults sheriff's team in jail officer's sex bias complaint

A federal magistrate has concluded that Sheriff Timothy B. Howard’s staff breached an agreement written to settle a Holding Center lieutenant's complaint of  sex discrimination.

The case involving the now-retired Jacqueline Kretzmon, who once found a decapitated rat in her driveway, traces back to 2007, when she filed a complaint with the State Division of Human Rights.

Kretzmon alleged she had been disparaged by other employees, given poor work reviews and had a foreign substance poured into her car's gas tank -- largely because she was a woman and a lesbian in a mostly male and heterosexual workplace.

To settle the matter, the county paid $75,000 and agreed she would never be in Chief Michael Reardon’s direct chain of command. Kretzmon didn't blame Reardon for the cruel acts, but because of myriad issues felt she would be subject to retaliation and did not want to be under his direct oversight.

For a time, Reardon was reassigned to the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden. But he eventually was returned to the Holding Center in Buffalo, as its chief of operations, and placed above Kretzmon in the command chain. Kretzmon objected and in 2011 filed a federal lawsuit stating the agreement had been broken. She went on to argue that Reardon was targeting her with harsh treatment.

County officials, including Howard, responded by saying they had only agreed Reardon would not be Kretzmon's "direct" supervisor. She still reported directly to a captain, they said.

But Kretzmon was able to show several instances in which Reardon gave her direct orders.

This summer, U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder agreed with Kretzmon and determined the county strayed from the agreement.

“The language of the settlement agreement clearly and unambiguously provides that the County of Erie would not place Michael Reardon in a position of direct authority over plaintiff,” Schroeder wrote. “...There is no dispute, however, Mr. Reardon’s reassignment to the Erie County Holding Center prompted numerous occasions where Mr. Reardon was directing plaintiff's work.”

At the same time, Schroeder found that Kretzmon had not proven her allegation that the county breached the agreement to retaliate against her.

Schroeder gave the lawyers a chance to disagree with his findings before they were sent as recommendations to the district judge supervising the case, Richard J. Arcara. A lawyer for the county, Julie P. Apter of the Goldberg Segalla firm, soon countered in court papers that Schroeder based his decision on Reardon’s emails to Kretzmon, but the emails show he was only seeking information from Kretzmon, not giving her orders.

Reardon, Apter wrote, was acting in his new role as the official who would implement the improvements that would settle a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against Erie County. The Justice Department filed the suit to bring more humane conditions to the jail facilities that Howard oversees.

“There was never any situation,” Apter continued, “in which Mr. Reardon directed the plaintiff to engage in her day-to-day activities, and there was never any situation in which the plaintiff was reprimanded or disciplined by Mr. Reardon for engaging in any of her day-to-day activities.”

Reardon, who was eventually named the Jail Management Division's first deputy superintendent for compliance, said in a deposition that he was never told why he was transferred for about a year to the county Correctional Facility but later assumed it was because of Kretzmon's complaint.

As Kretzmon's lawsuit describes it, she was under increasing pressure as she was expected to do her job and those of subordinates. She alleged that supervisors sought to isolate her from others in the jail hierarchy. She was unusual in another respect: As a lieutenant, she had donated $500 to the campaign of Howard's opposing candidate in the 2009 election, John Glascott.

Kretzmon's life changed further when she was assigned to oversee inmate disciplinary hearings. One day, she heard the case of an inmate who had been written up for tearing his bed-sheet. Kretzmon found the circumstances unusual, and after quizzing the inmate a different story tumbled out: Jail deputies ripped the sheet when they tossed the inmate's cell in a search for marijuana. Not only did the deputies wrongly write up the inmate for tearing the sheet, one punched him in the stomach for refusing to identify the inmate who had the marijuana, the inmate reported.

Kretzmon encouraged him to put his version of events in writing, and an internal investigation began. The inmate's story checked out, and the Sheriff's Office moved to terminate three jail deputies involved. One was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The episode made Kretzmon more unpopular in some circles. Someone scrawled "fire Kretzmon" on a wall in a staff dining room. She found a rat, with its head neatly sliced off, on her driveway. On a blog devoted to Holding Center issues, she was called a “a cancer” as well as a “weasel” and a “pig.”

In her lawsuit, Kretzmon seeks money for the stress she says she went through and the health issues that arose as a result. The case has been underway, at various speeds, for six years, but there has been a relative flurry of activity in the latter half of this year. The attorneys are now taking another crack at mediation. But the mediator reported days ago that the most recent session produced no settlement.

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