Police Hit With Class Action Suit

Posted March 1, 2004 at 5:53pm

More than a dozen black officers have filed a class action lawsuit against the Capitol Police Board alleging the law enforcement agency discriminated against them during its most recent round of promotions exams.

The lawsuit, which lists 14 officers but could be expanded to include more, focuses on a two-part test administered by the Capitol Police to determine whether officers will be promoted to the rank of sergeant or lieutenant. The tests are offered every two years.

According to the officers’ complaint, filed Feb. 26 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the board “has discriminated against Plaintiff Class Agents and other African American Officers and Sergeants in its preferential treatment of white candidates who took last year’s Sergeant’s and Lieutenant’s promotional examinations.”

A police spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit, stating that the agency has not yet received a copy of the documents.

The first portion of the complaint outlines a May 2003 incident in which Capitol Police officials scheduled a special testing date for two white officers, one of whom gave birth just days before the regularly scheduled test. Because the officers are married, superiors instructed them to take the test at the same time to prevent the two from discussing it.

In previous years, the department has practiced a zero-tolerance policy for officers who could not take a test at the assigned time.

“The special accommodation would have given the [couple] more time to prepare and the opportunity to speak with Officers who had already taken the exam,” the complaint states. A total of 124 officers seeking promotions to sergeant or lieutenant took part in the May test.

Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer canceled the additional testing date, however, in response to complaints by several officers.

In his announcement, made in a four-page letter issued to officers in June 2003, Gainer described the initial decision to schedule an alternate date for the two officers as an “honest attempt to accommodate a medical condition” and also noted it was based on a legal opinion concerning the Family and Medical Leave Act.

In the same letter, Gainer announced a new alternate test, stating that officers who had missed the original date, regardless of reason, would be allowed to take a comparable but different exam. According to court documents, the alternate exam took place in September 2003.

Despite the additional testing date, attorneys for the black officers assert that the white female officer still received preferential treatment when she became a sergeant on Feb. 13.

“Plaintiffs and numerous other African American Sergeant candidates did not receive the same benefit — promotion to sergeant — or the same special treatment that defendant provided to” the female officer, the complaint states. The officers’ suit states that the woman is the only officer promoted to sergeant from the September 2003 testing group.

In his June letter, Gainer stated that the department would “over promote by one” to avoid interfering with the rankings of those officers who took the May 2003 exams. The policy would be achieved by matching the scores of candidates who elected to take the later exam with an officer taking the May exam who received the same score.

A second portion of the lawsuit focusing on examinations for potential lieutenants asserts another white officer received preferential treatment from police officials when they allowed her to take a written test in October 2003, rather than in May.

The white female sergeant “had several more months to prepare for the exam than those, like Sgt. [Sharon] Blackmon-Malloy [a plaintiff], who took both portions of the Lieutenant’s exam on the regularly scheduled dates,” the complaint states.

Plaintiff attorneys Joe Gebhardt and Nathaniel Johnson have asked that the new lawsuit be consolidated with an earlier case filed against the Capitol Police Board.

That lawsuit, filed in 2001 by members of the U.S. Capitol Black Police Association, alleges that department denied promotions to, retaliated against, unfairly disciplined or fired more than 350 current and former black officers. All 14 officers bringing the new case are class agents or members of the proposed class in that case, which is also being represented by Gebhardt and Johnson.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan is scheduled to hear arguments in that case, Blackmon-Malloy et al v. U.S. Capitol Police Board, on March 10.