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Cranberry, officer settle discrimination suit

CRANBERRY TWP — Cranberry Township and a police officer settled a federal discrimination lawsuit less than a week before it was scheduled to go to trial.

Terms of the settlement, which the parties agreed to during a final pretrial conference before U.S. District Judge Christy Criswell Wiegand, were not immediately available.

The lawsuit, which was originally filed in November 2019 by Cranberry police officer Tiffani Shaffer, accused Cranberry Township of discriminating against her on the basis of her sex and her pregnancy.

Shaffer also alleged the police department retaliated against her after she filed complaints with federal and state agencies regarding the alleged discrimination.

Prior to the settlement, jury selection was scheduled for June 27 with the trial to immediately follow.

Allegations

Shaffer alleged in the lawsuit that she received just 16.7 hours of work per week while on light duty — including four weeks of no hours and seven more weeks during which she was scheduled for fewer than eight hours — and did not receive a set schedule and received a significantly lower number of hours than male and non-pregnant female police officers on light duty had in the past.

The male and non-pregnant female officers, Shaffer alleged, worked an average of between 22 and 43.1 hours per week, worked a set schedule and were not scheduled for any weeks with no hours of work.

Cranberry, in response to Shaffer’s allegations, claimed Shaffer couldn’t compare her hours to those of other, more senior police who were on light duty because of their seniority. Shaffer had just come off a one-year probationary status when she became pregnant.

But, the officer claims, when she filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, about the alleged discrimination she experienced after becoming pregnant, her hours grew worse.

“Before the meeting where the parties discussed Shaffer’s EEOC charge, she worked an average of 29.7 hours per week,” Shaffer’s attorneys claimed in a court filing. “After the meeting, she worked an average of 14.9 hours per week for the remainder of her light duty. ... Indeed, the very week after the July 26 meeting, Shaffer only worked seven hours.”

In response, Cranberry has claimed throughout the proceedings that it made every possible effort to find work for Shaffer.

“The township made extensive efforts to accommodate Ms. Shaffer and to provide her with light-duty work, for which she was eligible, to the maximum extent that it could,” Cranberry’s attorneys wrote.

Prior rulings

In October 2021, the lawsuit survived a motion for summary judgment from Cranberry Township. Such motions are, essentially, asking the court to rule in one party’s favor because, even assuming all facts pleaded are true, the lawsuit couldn’t stand as a matter of law.

Wiegand ruled that a “reasonable jury could find” in Shaffer’s favor based on both the facts of the case — assuming what she alleged in her complaint was true — and the law when the judge denied Cranberry’s motion for summary judgment.

Just one week prior to the settlement agreement, Wiegand ruled on three evidentiary issues prior to trial.

The federal judge determined that Cranberry could not present a two-page typed note from the township’s human resources manager documenting a meeting between Shaffer and police Chief Kevin Meyer after Shaffer filed her EEOC complaint; that Cranberry could not present evidence about Shaffer receiving unemployment compensation for the hours she was not scheduled during her pregnancy; but that Cranberry could present evidence about the “cost to the taxpayers” of paying Shaffer a full-time salary without the requisite amount of work to justify such wages.