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To maintain a claim under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate, among other elements, that the defendant acted under color of state law. Color of law is determined by the relationship between the defendant's misconduct and the power, authority and duties conferred by the state.
Plaintiffs, two female police officers, alleged that one of their male co-workers, engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment and discriminatory behavior while on the job. According to the plaintiffs, the co-worker stuck his tongue in an officer's ear, and made comments about the size of his genitals. Plaintiffs sued the defendant city and police captain, arguing that the defendants interfered with their constitutional rights in violation of § 1983 and that they violated Title VII by failing to remedy a sexually hostile work environment. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. The co-worker argued that he did not act under color of state law. The city and the captain claimed that they responded promptly and appropriately to the officers' complaints.
Were the defendants entitled to summary judgment?
The court held that defendants were entitled to summary judgment. There were no facts to support the inference of a relationship between the co-worker's alleged misconduct and his state appointed power, authority, position, or duties. In addition, the police department acted reasonably when it ordered the co-worker to have no contact with the officers and escalated its discipline when the problems continued. The city and captain were not negligent in failing to impose tougher discipline based on the co-worker's harassment history because the no-contact order and transfer occurred before a complete investigation or a finding of guilt on the officers' charges.