Nineteen plaintiffs have withdrawn from a decade-old discrimination lawsuit against the Capitol Police, leaving 285 individuals left for the fight.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday granted a motion to voluntarily dismiss the plaintiffs.
“They either got so frustrated with the case that they asked us to get them dismissed or because the case has been going on about 11 years now and some of them did not have viable legal claims under the court ruling,” said Joe Gebhardt, the attorney whose firm is representing the plaintiffs.
First filed as an Office of Compliance grievance in 2001 with now-retired Capitol Police Lt. Sharon Blackmon-Malloy as the lead plaintiff, the complaint argued that more than 200 black officers were denied promotions, retaliated against, unfairly disciplined or fired because of their race.
The case has dragged on for years while courts have focused not on the merits of the claims but on who has legal standing to make them. Defense attorneys have spent the better part of the past decade whittling down the number of plaintiffs based on the soundness of their claims. In the interim, 17 have died.
Blackmon-Malloy said she didn’t see the latest development as a setback.
“It has always been our hope that everyone would remain in the proposed class action lawsuit,” she told Roll Call. “However, we support the plaintiffs who have elected to be dismissed from the case.”
Gebhardt also said he isn’t troubled by the plaintiffs’ exit, saying it showed that they “are trying to be consistent with four questions that are prerequisites for going forward.”
That is, in order for each individual to be allowed to go to trial, he or she must essentially bear the burden of proof on four major points: Did the individual request Office of Compliance counseling within 180 days of a discriminatory act, request mediation within 15 days of the end of the counseling, provide the Capitol Police Board with a notice of their claim, and then file a court case within 90 days of the end of the mediation?
Gebhardt said that while all of his clients can answer three of the questions affirmatively, there is less certainty about whether plaintiffs will be able to prove that they filed a timely discrimination complaint at the start of the administrative process.
“That is subject to debate,” Gebhardt said. “Memories have faded.”
With a district court hearing expected before the end of December or early in the new year, parties on both sides hope a resolution is near.
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, Capitol Police chief from 2002 to 2006 and now chairman of the Capitol Police Board, told Roll Call in April that the case has been “painful” and “aggravating” to watch drag on.
On Tuesday, Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms Martina Bradford said the office was relieved to see the court taking any action at all on the dispute.
“We think, essentially, that any movement in this case is good,” Bradford said. “These are important issues that are being raised in this case, and I think it’s important that we have a police department which is free from these kinds of allegations.”
Daniel Newhauser contributed to this article.