Black Cops to Resume Lawsuit
Approximately 270 black officers will soon resume their discrimination lawsuits against the Capitol Police, after the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s dismissal of their cases.
Two years ago, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia threw out the complaints of more than 300 officers, ruling that they hadn’t completed the in-house remediation required under the Congressional Accountability Act.
But on Friday, a three-judge panel reversed the reasoning behind that dismissal, ruling that the law does not require in-person counseling or mediation. And their attorney expects most of the officers will be able to proceed anew.
The news came as a welcome shock to the officers, who first filed their case seven years ago. Sharon Blackmon-Malloy, who has led the effort, said she was speechless. Her case was not dismissed by the district court, but it has more or less stalled during the appeals process.
“It means we’ve got a second chance at justice,— she said, adding that the long process has taken a toll. “We could have stopped and said we’re tired and we don’t have the money to continue. But we were never satisfied with that because we knew we were right.—
A spokesman for the Office of the U.S. Attorney, which is handling the case on behalf of the Capitol Police Board, declined to comment because officials are still reviewing the decision. The Capitol Police also declined to comment on ongoing litigation. (The three-member board oversees the department.)
In Friday’s opinion, Judge Judith Rogers, on behalf of Chief Judge David Sentelle and Judge Douglas Ginsburg, outlined the court’s interpretation of the CAA, which applies several labor and safety laws to the legislative branch.
In essence, the judges ruled that to bring a claim to court, legislative branch employees must have personally, or through a lawyer, filed their complaints with the Office of Compliance and gotten confirmation from the OOC that counseling and mediation was completed but that counseling does not have to be in person.
But, Rogers writes, “nothing in the CAA suggests Congress intended courts to engage in a mini-trial on the content of the counseling and mediation sessions, an inquiry that would be fraught with problems.—
The ruling will allow the officers to take their cases back to the district court. But they face an uphill battle: Their attorneys still have to prove they completed all aspects of the in-house process.
The officers’ attorney, Joseph Gebhardt, said he believes that 270 of the more than 300 officers will get their cases heard, citing a court brief filed by the OOC that claims 270 officers finished the counseling and mediations required by the CAA.
But past court documents provide hints at arguments that the Capitol Police’s attorneys might use in district court. In a brief filed earlier this year, they claim that many of the officers never went through counseling or mediation because most were represented by one lawyer who only discussed a handful of cases with OOC and Capitol Police officials.
“The undisputed evidence presented to the District Court reflects that none of the appellants’ claims at issue in this appeal were mediated by anyone,— they wrote. “Their counsel at the time, Charles Ware, mediated the claims of only a few, select officers. And these officers only mediated their own claims.—
But Gebhardt expressed confidence that the officers be able to pursue their cases. He called the appellate ruling a “resounding victory— for discrimination complaints and said he would soon try to reinstate a class action lawsuit in the district court.
“We’re very pleased about all of this,— he said. “It’s been a long struggle.—