Black Officers Upset Over Diversity Plan

Posted November 26, 2003 at 1:58pm

A Capitol Police plan to overhaul its diversity training program has drawn criticism from the group of more than 350 black officers involved in a class-action discrimination lawsuit against the law enforcement agency.

Although attorneys for both sides had agreed that diversity programs should be included in a possible settlement before formal negotiations ceased last month, the officers’ attorneys questioned components of the planned overhaul — including a survey of officers and planned focus groups and interviews — in a Nov. 24 letter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which represents the Capitol Police Board.

In the the letter, attorneys Joe Gebhardt and Nathaniel Johnson call the department’s plan an “end-run around the U.S. District Court litigation process” in the 2001 lawsuit filed by members of the U.S. Capitol Black Police Association. The case includes both current and retired employees who allege that the Capitol Police Department denied promotions to, retaliated against, unfairly disciplined or fired black officers.

According to a November memo signed by Police Chief Terrance Gainer that outlines the department’s plan, the diversity program will be redesigned using a series of activities, including the written survey, focus groups, individual interviews and pilot-training sessions.

A Capitol Police spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment, but in the memo Gainer describes the plan as a “proactive effort to enhance the working environment of the Department.” Under the program both sworn officers and civilian employees would receive eight hours of diversity training in 2004.

Attorneys for the officers are critical of the plan, saying the results of the survey could actually be used to counter their clients’ claims in court.

“We feel that the issues in the lawsuit should be dealt with in the formal process,” Gebhardt said Tuesday.

The attorneys also believe the department should have involved the plaintiffs in designing the survey, which was conducted Nov. 17-19.

“The questions are tilted in management’s favor and are tilted toward a conclusion that there is no retaliation or discrimination,” Gebhardt said.

The survey includes sections on “organizational climate,” job satisfaction, “opportunities for professional growth and upward mobility,” “perceptions of discrimination” and prior diversity training.

A copy of the questionnaire provided to Roll Call asks respondents to rate their responses on a five-point scale to questions such as “If I have a complaint, there is a safe place I can go to discuss it without fear of reprisals” and “In the last 12 months, I have personally been discriminated against based on a negative meaning placed on my race or ethnic origin.”

The survey states that responses are anonymous, and Gainer writes in the November memo: “The results of the survey are for the sole purpose of the vendor to assess the training needs of the Department and will not be distributed.”

The next step in the department’s plan — focus groups and individual interviews — are scheduled for early December, but Gebhardt and Johnson state in their letter that their clients will refuse to take part in those activities.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office was not available for comment.

According to the November memo, Capitol Police employees will be randomly selected to participate in five to six focus groups and about 30 individual interviews.

“Criteria for the interviews will be based on Department structure and demographics, which will be determined by the contractor. The Department will be provided with a list of personnel that fit the requested demographics and will choose randomly from that group,” the memo states.

The lawsuit is scheduled to go before U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan on Dec. 5 for a status conference, in which he will determine whether the case should return to the court’s active litigation calendar.