Revealed: Department of Motor Vehicles accused of discriminating against older white male police officers

This is the first in a series of pieces about alleged age discrimination at the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles. The victim is being referred to as John Doe to protect his identity.

The details below were gathered from a complaint filed with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, which affirmed the victim’s complaint.

HARTFORD, CT- Most middle-aged white males know the deck is stacked against us because they are not a so-called “protected class.” However, it is time to fight back when a state agency commits open, blatant discrimination. And that is what one Connecticut state employee did…and won.

We’ll refer to him as John Doe to protect the employee's identity. Doe works for the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) as an inspector and has been employed for nine years. He was 59 years old at the time of his initial complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, lodged in 2021.

In his complaint, Doe alleged he had been discriminated against for promotion due to his age. Further, he alleged the department retaliated against him “for his previous opposition to discriminatory conduct.” He also said he “was denied two (2) promotions and given different terms and conditions of employment than his peers, which is illegal.

Doe’s complaint noted there were ten employees in his department in 2021, all responsible for particular geographical areas assigned to them. Of the ten inspectors, six were in their fifties, with many being former police officers who took a job with the DMV after retiring from their police agencies…Doe was one such retired officer. Out of the other four employees, one was in his sixties, and three were in their thirties.

In 2022, several older employees left the DMV, whereby the agency added three new employees…one in his fifties, the other two in their thirties. Over 2021 and 2022, 70% of the inspectors were over 40, however, three of the five most recent additions were in their thirties. At the time, Doe was the third oldest inspector in the unit, and after a retirement in 2022, he became the second oldest inspector in the DMV.

In April 2021, Doe filed a complaint alleging the DMV offered him “different terms and conditions of employment” and that he was being “harassed due to his age.” That complaint was subsequently dismissed by the Commission’s Legal Department at the case assessment review level, claiming he had filed to establish that he was subjected to adverse employment action based on his allegations.

Meanwhile, a promotional opportunity was posted on May 27, 2021, for the position of Motor Vehicle Sergeant. Doe applied for the position and was interviewed on September 1, 2021. However, he was not selected. Instead, the DMV promoted the youngest employee, whom we’ll call Mary Jones, in the unit, who was only 32 at the time.

The interview panel consisted of three individuals—Division Chief Christopher Smith, age 59, Sgt. Stafford Browne, age 49, and Motor Vehicle Program Coordinator Iliana Rodriguez, age 56. Smith served as the hiring manager for the position.

In sworn testimony, Doe said Smith had previously stated he disliked hiring retired police officers, offering no reason or explanation for feeling that way.

Since most retired police officers tend to be a bit older, Doe believed Smith was hostile toward older workers.

When he was passed over for the promotion by someone far younger with far less experience, Doe thought it was due to his age and retaliation for his previous CHRO complaint, which was still pending when the promotion was made.  According to Doe, Smith favors career DMV officers over those who retired from police departments and join the DMV.

Doe also noted that he had over 20 years of experience as a supervisor with his former police department and had trained Jones when she joined the DMV. He also serves as an instructor at Connecticut POST.

Under testimony, Smith admitted that when the DMV hires younger recruits instead of retired police officers, they tend to stay with the DMV longer. He did note that retirees (police) are typically excellent employees at the agency, noting there are benefits for both kinds of hires.

Smith claimed John Doe was not selected because he wasn’t the highest-ranked candidate by the selection panel.

A 52-year-old inspector finished first on the list, followed by Jones and then John Doe. Smith said Jones was promoted because she was the “goal” candidate, whatever that means. The inspector who finished first was promoted at the end of 2021 when the next sergeant vacancy occurred.

Tellingly, all three candidates scored highly on the scorecards for sergeant compiled by Browne and Rodriguez. However, Smith didn’t indicate any assessment on his paperwork for John Doe, and he was the only candidate whom Smith didn’t rate. Smith admitted to the CHRO that John Doe had a CHRO complaint pending at the time of the selection.

In addition, there were scoring changes for Jones on specific questions by both Browne and Rodriguez, moving her scores upward. Questions that Jones missed were not noted as such on any of the scoring sheets. In total, several questions had their scores raised for Jones.

After Jones was promoted, John Doe was reassigned to an area that involved much more travel than he was previously subjected to. His previous area was reassigned to a much younger employee. Furthermore, Jones became hypercritical of John Doe’s reports and monitored his location by GPS.

After being promoted, Jones and her new manager, Evelyn Stender, also newly promoted by Smith, changed how inspectors were assigned. Whereas previously, senior inspectors were allowed to choose their territories, and newer hires took what was left, that changed, and John Doe paid the price. John Doe was given areas in the far southwestern corner of Connecticut.

Jones also took to micromanaging John Doe’s reports, asking him to make inconsequential changes to wording. John Doe said it appeared he was being held to different standards than other inspectors, as indicated by evidence there were no similar messages between Jones and her other subordinates about corrections, with the DMV claiming that was “because no other employee under her supervision pushed back on her corrections during the listed/requested time frame.”

Jones also started to harass John Doe about his sign-on times. Previously, inspectors were considered timely in their work if they began patrol 15 minutes after signing on to the radio. This is to allow for preparation time and vehicle warmup. Jones told John Doe he misunderstood the policy on patrol start times.

There was no record of John Doe receiving previous discipline or counseling for beginning his patrols late. Jones testified that John Doe was the only inspector who pulled out late multiple days in a row and said the conduct stopped after she brought it to his attention.

Jones’s notes showed her determination of on-time patrols was utterly subjective. In addition, her notes indicated that some inspectors who left at the same time as John Doe were noted as being “on time” while he was determined to be late.

She also noted that she tracked John Doe’s movement via GPS but didn’t track other inspectors’ movements similarly. Nor was there any record of other inspectors being counseled about their start times. Clearly, John Doe was being targeted.

Jones also took it upon herself to micromanage John Doe’s inspections even though he had the third-highest number of inspections in the fourth quarter of 2022. Jones testified that she would randomly attend his inspections to “assure quality” and “increase efficiency.” Sometimes, she would drive up to an hour and a half to assist John Doe at his inspections.

In August 2021, the DMV posted a promotional announcement for the position of Motor Vehicle Lieutenant. Among the qualifications were six years of experience in vehicle repair or related investigatory or regulatory work. It also had as special experience one year as a Motor Vehicle sergeant or an equivalent role.

As previously noted, John Doe had previous experience with a municipal police department in Connecticut with over 20 years of supervisory experience, including sergeant. Nonetheless, he did not get invited to interview for the position.

On November 29, 2021, a 37-year-old woman was promoted to lieutenant.

Prior practices at the DMV included a case where a retired Hartford police supervisor was promoted to lieutenant under a previous division chief despite not having experience as a sergeant with the DMV. Because of his municipal experience, he was considered qualified…unlike John Doe.

That lieutenant was subsequently promoted to Captain, a previously non-existent position. The 37-year-old female was then promoted to lieutenant for that now-vacated position.

Ultimately, the captain was demoted back to lieutenant after the DMV got their female promoted.

It wasn’t until the spring of 2022 that John Doe was notified he was ineligible to interview for the lieutenant’s position because he hadn’t held the rank of sergeant at the DMV. Smith said he consulted with the DMV’s HR Business Partner, Lisa Owens, who determined John Doe wasn’t qualified, along with three other applicants who were in their 50s and retired police officers.

Owens testified to the CHRO that the division’s Affirmative Action Department reviews and approves hiring recommendations from managers to ensure discrimination doesn’t occur in the hiring process. She said Smith skipped that department and went to the Commissioner’s level for approval.

The CHRO hearing official, Laura Roxbury, chided Smith for twice selecting “candidates in their thirties over older candidates with much more experience, and many of those passed over were retired from previous law enforcement careers.” She further noted that “the hiring demographics for the unit and the promotions considered here suggest a preference for younger workers.” She further noted that Smith discriminated by stating that younger employees stay longer.

“Further, as four (4) employees in their fifties with equivalent experience were denied the opportunity to interview for the Lieutenant position and the established procedure for selection was not followed, it is reasonable to conclude that the older employees were intentionally denied consideration.”

Roxbury also took the process to task where the altered scorecards and interview notes were concerned. She also determined it was “reasonable because of the timing and the record to consider the denied promotion retaliatory” since John Doe’s complaint was still pending. She also said while Smith’s desire to promote a “goal” candidate was worthy, he “intentionally promoted the selected candidate over a better-qualified one.”

She also criticized what she called the “pretextual” differential treatment of John Doe by Jones, noting “it does not appear that the supervisor treated other employees who were less productive in such a manner [as she did John Doe] regarding their deficiencies.

“Additionally, as [Jones] testified that she was given a directive to monitor employee time in a way that had not been done previously, it is reasonable to conclude that this treatment was the result of retaliation or discriminatory animus based on the complainant’s age.”

In her determination, Roxbury upheld John Doe’s complaint:

“After reviewing all of the evidence in the Commission’s file, the investigator concludes there is reasonable cause for believing that a discriminatory practice has been or is being committed as alleged in the complaint.”

Next in the series- more possible discrimination issues related to age and status.

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