Top State Court Backs Findings of Retaliation Against 2 Police Supervisors

The state’s highest court on Thursday upheld lower courts’ findings that two former New York City police supervisors had been retaliated against after a disagreement with a commander who now heads the department’s entire patrol force.

The decision, by the Court of Appeals, examined the Police Department’s handling of a transfer request in 2001, when a sergeant sought to move to the department’s Youth Services Section, but an up-and-coming commander rejected the application after deciding that the sergeant was unfit to interact with children, according to evidence outlined in the court decision.

The commander, James P. Hall, who this year was promoted to chief of patrol, had asked the sergeant, Robert Sorrenti, about his marital status and his dealings with another male officer, both questions that two of the commander’s subordinates believed were intended to sound out Sergeant Sorrenti’s sexual orientation, the decision said.

Those subordinates concluded that Chief Hall believed that Sergeant Sorrenti was gay and unfit to work with children, the decision said. Both subordinates, Capt. Lori Albunio and Lt. Thomas Connors, had backed the sergeant’s request to transfer to the Youth Services Section and spoke to supervisors on his behalf.

After he did not get the job, Captain Albunio and Lieutenant Connors contended that they were given less desirable postings in retaliation.

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The court’s decision underscored the breadth of the city’s Human Rights Law, which contains a provision outlawing retaliation against someone who has “opposed” discrimination.

In a statement, an appeals lawyer for the city, Julie Steiner O’Donnell, said, “We are very disappointed in the court’s decision and in its interpretation of the N.Y.C. Human Rights Law.”

Sergeant Sorrenti, who is also no longer with the Police Department, won $491,706 in damages against the city in a 2006 trial.

His lawyer, Colleen Meenan, said Thursday that “police managers perceived him to be a gay man and stereotyped him as a pedophile.” She added that Mr. Sorrenti does not “identify as a gay man.”

The Police Department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said Sergeant Sorrenti’s perceived sexual orientation was never an issue in the denial of his 2001 request for a transfer.

“The reason he was not accepted for the post is an entirely separate matter,” Mr. Browne said, declining to elaborate.

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