Former NY corrections officer says charges were retaliation

Alexandra Matalavage, who pleaded guilty to falsifying work records, says charges were trumped up so she would drop her gender discrimination complaint


By Thomas J. Prohaska
The Buffalo News

NIAGARA COUNTY, N.Y. — A former Niagara County corrections officer who pleaded guilty to falsifying work records alleges in a lawsuit that the charges were trumped up to force her to drop her gender discrimination complaint against the county.

Alexandra Matalavage sued the county Sept. 9 in U.S. District Court, claiming that then-Undersheriff Michael J. Filicetti told her no criminal charges would be filed if she agreed to an unpaid suspension and dropped complaints she filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for not being promoted.

"That's inaccurate. I will say she pled guilty to a crime. There's pending litigation, so I'm not going to comment any further," Filicetti, now acting sheriff, said Monday.

"The discrimination predated any complaint that they filed against her," said Elizabeth Tommaney, Matalavage's attorney for the federal case.

Matalavage pleaded guilty Feb. 11 to a misdemeanor charge of tampering with public records and resigned from her job as part of the plea bargain. Her sentence was a fine and surcharge totaling $550.

Tommaney said Matalavage wouldn't have pleaded guilty if not for a new state law that endangered her pension if she were convicted of a felony.

Matalavage was accused of not performing her assigned rounds at the jail while making handwritten log entries that said she did do so. The lawsuit contends the evidence against her came from an inaccurate swipe-card system based on unsynchronized clocks that didn't match her log.

Matalavage, 53, a Marine Corps veteran, started as a part-time corrections officer in 2008 and went full time in 2011.

The lawsuit contends that female officers are seldom assigned to extra duty that can help them build credit toward promotions. It says 15% of the corrections officers are women, but last year there was only one female among 19 supervisors.

The suit says that in 2018, Matalavage and another woman on the list for promotion to lieutenant were not "canvassed" – asked if they were interested in the position. Neither was in the top three on the list, which is the usual cutoff point for hiring.

A promotion to sergeant was expected in August 2019. The lawsuit says Matalavage had the second-highest civil service test score for that rank.

That guaranteed her an interview for the position – except that on April 9, 2019, Filicetti and Chief Jail Deputy Kevin Payne told her she was under investigation for time-card violations.

That ruled her out of a chance for promotion, according to the gender discrimination complaint Matalavage filed with the EEOC a week later.

On June 11, 2019, Filicetti allegedly told her felony charges would be filed against her unless she resigned and dropped the EEOC complaint. Matalavage quickly filed another EEOC complaint, alleging retaliation.

On July 8, 2019, the lawsuit says, Matalavage was suspended for 30 days without pay and told that if she accepted a 60-day suspension and dropped the EEOC complaints, there would be no criminal charges. She refused, and on Aug. 27, 2019, the criminal charges were announced.

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©2020 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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